I always thought of Florida as a state with too much peach and turquoise, with plastic palm trees and fake flowers, with bright white keds (during keds off-years), tropical flora meets middle American vibe, lots of walkers and white hair. It was the one coastal state (both east and west) I avoided when applying for teaching jobs before my California move.
But it's funny the connections we make, or rather, connections we realize. Both of my parents grew up here -- my mother to leave it (though to return years later to give and give), and my father to bask in his memories of it. I visited as a child and an adult; I said goodbye to two grandmothers here. It's no wonder, really, that the flat roads should strike such a chord in me, but I never noticed the place climb inside me until after it settled in.
I'm sitting in the Ft. Lauderdale airport right now waiting to fly to DC. I've been here nearly a week at a poetry festival, and before I came, as I sifted through my poems deciding what to bring, I found Florida's roots in my writing again and again. Here there are threads of my family, quiet little stories woven into street names and stucco. Here there are the sounds of Florida's south, a flatter lilt than Georgia's, the shapes of my grandmother's words.
Even Ben spent years growing up here, too. This trip, I collected shells from the beach where he used to boogie board, where the purple flag waved when the jelly fish came. And I went to a mall where he played arcade games and sucked down cups of orange julius.
So, as I wait for my plane, I'm reminded of how good it is to come to these places of people we love, even when they are Florida, especially when they are Florida, when they make us look again, and again, and a little closer again, until we finally start to see.