I spend a fair bit of time, at the ripe old age (she says with amusement because I really love being this age) of 34, pondering how on earth I didn't get murdered in a back alley in my 20s. My lack of regard for good sense and personal safety is a wonder to behold in hindsight.
It probably isn't that I've grown a self-preservation instinct now; I'm just far more aware of how many times I've been lucky.
So, this one time (not at band camp), I was friends with a bunch of lesbian hippie musicians. It was pretty awesome. We went to a lot of open-mike nights, which led to some of the very few times I have sung in public (I have this weird thing where singing is a private activity - don't judge me or my refusal to karaoke).
We also watched
more times in one summer than I can count.
Another favorite activity was going to the beach in the middle of the night. One of the advantages to living in Florida, at least in Central Florida, is that you're never more than an hour away from the water. I sport the ever so attractive nerdy pallor, but I love the beach. I love the way the water sounds; I love the way the sand and the salt smell.
Midnight beach trips are my idea of perfection.
A bunch of us would pile into a car - with whatever blankets and instruments were deemed necessary for the evening - and then head out to this one spot we all liked. There was a lighthouse. And I think it was even legal to be there.
One night, a fairly large group of us headed out. I was already exhausted, but part and parcel of the lack of self-preservation was a lack of ability to say no. And a lack of desire - I wasn't going to sleep anyway I always figured, being plagued with insomnia, so letting my momentum carry me out on another beach trip sounded like a great idea every single time.
We stopped at the 7-11 (oh, thank heaven) for beverages. And probably snacks. Because that's how a bunch of 19- and 20-year-old women roll at the beach at midnight, right?
There was, undoubtedly, some consumption of illicit substances when I wasn't paying attention. Yes, y'all, I'm pretty sure I was at the beach with some hippies who were stoned out of their minds. I was totally clean, though, because I am a control freak who didn't even drink in college.
There was some guitar playing. And a lot of star gazing. And even some attempted dark-of-night, let's-see-what-the-flash-gets-us photography. And eventually, I passed the hell out.
From tiredness. Because, oh, wow, I wish I could adequately express how
I was for most of my college career. I wasn't sleeping and I was barely eating. And I was running around in the middle of the night on unlit beaches.
I fell asleep that night on the beach. I remember how comfortable it was. There were the waves, of course, that classic sound played in white noise generators everywhere. There was that beach smell that always makes me so happy. There was a small crowd of people who were happy and who were happy I was there.
That has always been a huge element of comfort for me - just company when I'm trying to sleep. That's really the only thing I disliked about being single: less companionship when I was trying to go to sleep. We need more platonic group sleeping arrangements is all I'm saying.
Anyway, it was about three a.m. when things got weird.
I woke up and it was like I couldn't
anything - everything was too loud and too scrambled. I woke up and I definitely couldn't
anything - there was an intensely bright light shining down directly on my face.
It was white and round and seemed like it was getting closer.
My immediate and all-consuming thought was that I was being abducted by aliens.
Yes, I like science fiction. I'm a great big giant nerd. I love Star Trek and Star Wars and NASA and even though I don't watch tv, I read the episode synopses of Battlestar Galactica because I couldn't bear not to know what was going on. I'd always kind of academically figured that alien life was possible - indeed, I thought it might even be probable. Because the universe is too big and amazing for me to be arrogant enough to believe in its limits.
But I had never, until that moment, had a visceral conviction that we are not alone in the universe.
Then a deep voice, from somewhere above the light, asked me if I was okay. Considering that I thought I was being sucked up into a spaceship, I was actually pretty okay - so I said yes.
Most of the time, I wake up well and easily. But startle me out of a very deep sleep when I need that sleep like whoa... I'm apparently far more of a conspiracy theorist than I am when I'm fully awake.
It was the cops. Of course it was the cops. A bunch of girls alone in the middle of the night on an unlit beach?
our flashlights drew attention (we knew better than to light a campfire of any kind, please).
the officers who noticed the flickering lights wanted to check things out - we could have been being raped and/or murdered. Or smuggling drugs. Which was probably their real concern.
I commend those officers for their dedication to patrolling the beaches. And for not hauling me in for drug testing because I bet dollars to donuts I was clearly not entirely in my right mind even though I was totes sober.
The officers didn't yell at us or tell us to go home; they really were very understanding that sometimes you just need to go play folk music on the beach in the middle of the night. But even so, the mood was gone. We packed up our blankets and our gas station snackies and hiked back up the beach to the car.
The drive home is fuzzy in my memory; I don't think there was any reason to particularly remember it, and I probably fell back asleep anyway. I knew we were almost home when I smelled the Merita Bread Factory smell - fresh bread smells waft over the highway in Orlando at regular intervals. I was a little anxious when we got back to my friend's apartment (my car had been towed on another such excursion so I was always nervous coming back) but mostly I was in that psuedo fugue state that is so common after incredibly surreal experiences that turn out to be utterly commonplace.
I still think most things are possible, and that the universe is too large for me to know much of anything about it. There might not be aliens, sure. But there might be - and they might very well be abducting people.
Or maybe they moonlight as cops...