2006, for me, started on a… Let’s say a strange kind of note. I was 18 at the time. I’d graduated high school the previous summer, and, having decided to forego college (at least for the time being), I found employment with a local order processing facility for various book- and CD-of-the-month clubs, along with my best friend. The work and paychecks were less than glamorous. We worked in two different departments. He packaged the books and CDs to be shipped out to customers, and I stacked the finished packages onto pallets to be loaded onto the trucks. Needless to say, it was tedious and numbing labor.
Not only that, but a few weeks before, I’d wrecked my first car, I had ended things with the girl I’d been seeing for just a little over a year, and I was now involved with not one, but two other young women, one of whom was 10 years older than I was, and the other I’d known for a while and unexpectedly developed feelings for.
Of course, looking back, these seem like such trivial things. But for my emotionally immature, teenage self, this was quite a lot to be handling. So the weekend after New Year’s day, I and four of my other male friends decided to head down to Ocean City, MD.
In the summer, Ocean City is a hectic mess. Families of all socio-economic classes, college and high school students, and retirees swarm the peninsula like a barbarian horde, in quest of sunshine, relaxation, and bacchanalian revelry. During the winter, however, it’s a tranquil and inviting refuge from the stress of every day life. Not only that, but the price of hotels drops significantly. We booked a two room suite at the Holiday Inn at a price that was more than affordable for five poor-ish young folks like ourselves. It even had a balcony overlooking the Atlantic.
We made the obligatory pilgrimage to the local record store, where I scored a pre-owned copy of Jawbox’s first album. For dinner that night, we ate at the Salty Dog Tavern, one of the few restaurants that was open during the off-season. My friend Ross had been raving about their cheese steaks all day. Which didn’t do me much good, because at the time, I was a vegetarian. I ordered a Ceasar salad without chicken or bacon, with oil and vinegar instead of the namesake dressing. The waitress forgot my order when she brought the cheese steaks the rest of my crew had ordered. How appropriate, I thought
We’d managed to save a handle of Vladimir vodka from a New Year’s party, and we spent the rest of the night drinking a cocktail of our own invention (The Slippery Nipple – Half a red solo cup’s worth of vodka, topped off with equal parts margarita mix and Sprite, garnished with a maraschino cherry and just a bit of the syrup. For color). Sometime around midnight, Mat (my best friend) and I came down with a case of the drunk munchies. We set out, braving the frigid January bluster, as we stumbled our way to a nearby 7-11, whereupon a random Good Samaritan made a point to inform the both of us that “Skinny jeans are for [expletive deleted].”
We arrived back to the hotel with our spoils: ramen cups and about a dozen varieties of chips. Alex had passed out, and Ross and Mike were listening to music on Ross’s iPod, with Mike chatting on the phone with the girl I’d unexpectedly developed feelings for. He asked if I wanted to talk to her, to which I said “Yes,” and handed the phone off to me. I took it outside to the balcony, where I plunked down in one of the plastic chairs the hotel had provided, and lit up a smoke.
“How’s the beach?”
“Great so far. It’s so peaceful this time of year. It’s practically a ghost town right now.”
“I’m glad you’re having a good time.”
At that moment, I saw a small troop of snowflakes begin dutifully fluttering down from the sky, gradually increasing in number until the beach in front of me was coated in a fine dusting of fresh snow. The little flakes continued to gently descend over the waters of the Atlantic, and something about the scene, in conjunction with the excessive amount of alcohol I’d consumed that night, moved me almost to tears. This wasn’t the first time I’d ever seen snow before. But it was the first time seeing it fall across a serene stretch of coast like this. An inexplicable warmth rose up in my chest.
There are moments, brief moments more often than not, that when we’re in them, give us the sense that everything in our lives has been leading us decisively to that point, like we’ve finally reached the conclusion of an arduous journey to the top of a mountain, and are now basking in the radiance of the view from its peak. Apex moments, I call them. And as I watched the snow over the sands and the ocean, I couldn’t help but feel like I was experiencing such a moment.
I excitedly began telling my lady friend about the beauty I was currently bearing witness to, and repeating over and over how I wished she could have been there to see it with me. I remember she found my drunken enthusiasm endearing. After we finished our conversation, I sat for a while longer on the balcony, sipping on cheap vodka, chain-smoking, and watching the snow fall in gentle swirls over the Atlantic.