There is a strip of land that runs about 25 miles long off the coast of North Carolina, called Topsail Island. For the first 20 years of my life, I had no idea this place existed.
When I was 21, Al (then my boyfriend, now my husband) and I decided to make the 15 hour drive from Bloomington, Indiana, to Topsail, North Carolina. We had a week off from school for our college spring break, and since we were too broke to spend money on a vacation, we decided to take advantage of the home Al’s family owned and rented on a quiet stretch of beach that I had never heard of.
I will never forget the first time I saw Topsail Island. I already had the salty moisture of the ocean on my face as we drove over the arched bridge connecting the mainland to the island. I saw the long row of houses neatly lined up on the sand bank, facing miles of endless blue ocean. I was struck with that very specific feeling that hits when your bare feet hang out of the window of a car, sunshine hitting your face, and the sea waiting for you just around the corner. The perfect mixture of freedom and happiness.
I was lucky enough to feel that feeling countless more times over the next nine years, as the Beach House became our happy place. It was perfect.
Over the years, Topsail Island managed to stay somewhat secret (or at least managed to feel that way), and was never overrun with vacationers, tourists, or chain restaurants. It remained a special place that squeaked by the fast pace and commercialization of the world around it, unnoticed. I would grow to have some of my happiest memories take place within that 25 mile stretch of sand.
Throughout my twenties, Al and I would return to the Beach House during various stages of our lives. When we graduated college, we went to the Beach House to celebrate. I got to know and love his family there. I visited before and after moves abroad, stressful jobs, bouts of unemployment, saying goodbye to friends, and other major transitional periods of my twenties. I could create a montage in my head of the amounts of times I took runs along the shore, wondering where life would take me next, and if I would make it out okay.
The Beach House always listened.
Al asked me to marry him on the second floor balcony of the Beach House, overlooking the ocean. I tried surfing for the first time in my life there. I felt elated watching pods of dolphins playing in the surf. I once sat along the beach with my best friends in the world, in the middle of the night, as we witnessed the phenomenon of bioluminescence, and watched in amazement as glowing lights danced in the sand, reacting to the touch of our feet. It was pure magic.
The Beach House was always the place I went to in my mind’s eye when I needed a quick mid-day escape during a hectic work day. It instantly calmed me.
This year, the Beach House was sold, and we said goodbye to the place where we had built so many memories. I feel so grateful to have experienced a place that meant so much to me, that created so many endless pockets of happy memories to draw on for the rest of my life.
I love knowing that when I am 80 years old, I will still have the memory of the time I went boogie boarding with my friends, and turned my head as I crashed on to the sand just in time to watch each person wash up on the shore one by one, the sun setting behind the horizon, casting a soft glow on everything surrounding us. It is one of my happiest life moments so far.
Now, it’s time for someone else to build memories there.
Loving a place as much as we loved the Beach House made me realize how important it is to me to have places in life that make you feel happy, free, and alive. Of course, it is important to find this internally, but there is no denying that there are places in the world that help bring out the best in us, that make us feel good the moment we step foot in them.
The Beach House happened naturally, and was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of place for us, but that won’t stop me from aggressively searching for my next Happy Place. And I hope you find yours.
Thanks for the memories.
(Now currently taking suggestions for new Happy Places!)