It was dawn. The sky twisted orange and purple. An emerging sun reflected in the water. My toes crunched in the wet sand. The air was moist, smelling of salt. Waves crashed against the shore, bringing back in some of the dead jellyfish leftover from the tide. Children raided the beach for abandoned seashells. I stood close to the water, ocean foam between my toes. Flying grey silk flew by in a liquid sky. Thin, flexible vertebrae rippled through the water moving underneath the waves.
A stingray migration swam by the coast of Hilton Head, where I was vacationing for the summer, my last before leaving home to go to college. The stingrays swam at a uniform pace, moving as one. Their eyes were gentle, scouring forward, wings pushing them through the water, like birds flying south.
The lifeguards kept the water clear for an hour after the migration passed, just in case of stragglers. I remained on the shore. Not too long after the school had passed, a baby ray followed. It was small, no bigger than my hand. I ran, barefoot, after it down the beach. The sun pierced the back of my neck. Out of breath, covered in wet sand, I lost sight of it.
That night I sat on a balcony overlooking the beach. The ocean was dark, but I could see the tide coming in. I thought about the baby ray, lost at sea.
Several weeks later, my alarm screamed on my nightside table. It was time to leave home and go to college. The whole ride there was quiet. Once we arrived to unpack, the moist air wrapped itself around us as we all chipped into carrying my heavy bags up two flights of stairs.
In a blink, I was all moved into my dorm and the goodbyes were spoken.
Darkness edged in. Squirrels were busy collecting nuts in an old oak tree in the quad. Purple clouds filled the sky. The train screeched as it moved on the tracks behind the college. The leaves on the trees had flipped themselves up, beckoning the rain.
I sat on the front steps of my dorm and watched my parents back out of the parking spot. Mom waved out the window, forcing a smile. I knew she would be a wreck by the time they pulled onto the interstate. They would fight for the two-hour drive home, because Dad wouldn’t understand; I was the last of three children to leave home. Mom, a stay at home mom, would no longer have a to-do list of dance classes and cheer practice. It would be only Mom and Dad from now on in that big farmhouse. Mom would refuse to turn and look at the empty back seat.
It began to rain, as it would most every day at West Virginia Wesleyan. I stayed on the steps and watched Mom and Dad drive down the street. I imagined myself chasing them, mud puddles splashing up my legs, screaming “Wait!” I was angry with them for leaving me. Counting down the days until I would get to leave them, it had not occurred to me that they would actually leave me.
Water started dripping from my soaked hair. I stood from the steps and walked upstairs to my room. I sat on the edge of my bed in my new home, still wet from the rain. I’d run hard, but not fast enough. There I was, miles from home, alone.