We took a quick jaunt down to the Keys last month with my family to see my godsister get married—just as a monsoon of epic proportions blew over the narrow strip of Islamorada, almost like the skies were sharing our sentimentality. Theirs came in sheets, ours came down our cheeks.
The people at this wedding were more than guests to me—they’re my family. And it was a truly phenomenal ceremony—the type of ceremony you carry around with you forever as a sort of “well that’s what it’s all about.” They promised to love one another “with wild abandon” and all at once, with those vows, every dream I’d had since I was a little girl condensed, changed temperature, then fell from the sky onto the crown of my head.
It was love like a hardbound book that requires the patience and brains to get enough chapters into before you get the good stuff. I fell in love with love that day, all over again.
It was also a special, sentimental journey getting to bring Chad down there for the first time. And it wasn’t until I’d already drafted this post and clicked save that I figured out why, then came back and rewrote it all.
The Keys are a place that—shabby and kitschy and grubby as they are—have a really special place in my heart. Everyone has a childhood place they cling to and this was mine, so naturally I had high expectations to show it off to Chad. At that time, I didn’t realize that wasn’t the point. It was never the point.
This narrow string of islands is where I spent many weekends for many years growing up in Florida. We’d haul our flats fishing boat behind our car down on Friday nights when my dad got off work and wake up early for two days of bone fishing and meals at dive bars, then haul back on Sunday night. It has a special brand of character I wouldn’t expect everyone to appreciate, but the color of the water, wind, smells, and sounds—sprinkle me on the mangroves when I die.
[ONE by Cami NYC lace racer camisole in navy with TDF eyelash lace trim. Pissed I don’t have a picture of this full outfit because the navy bandana-print wrap skirt was pretty bomb. Stay tuned, I guess?]
Only, not even hazy nostalgia could hide its rougher edges. There were animated bikini store mannequins and larger than life lobsters with ladies posing for photos in front, wearing short shorts and purple lipstick. And yet, I still loved it but wasn’t sure how to explain why—at least, not without sounding like I was trying to sell it to someone who wasn’t buying.
To me (and to anyone with places they grew up going to that they hold tight) the Keys were about who you were with—especially us 80s kids, in a time before cell phones and the Internet and laptops. It was where we went to set everything aside and be together. For us, pre-Facebook, going to the Keys was about one thing: being together, being on the water, and catching fish, whether anyone knew we were there or not. We didn’t spread photos across tables, or across the internet—it was about hooking beautiful fish, being with each other, and being one with this gorgeous goddamned planet we live on.
That’s what being there meant to me, so it was coming home, and it was coming together with my family. That it was Alex’s wedding could not have better sealed it into the perfect return I’d hoped it would be.
[Tavik Swimwear ribbed Marlowe crop bikini top—bad picture, sorry. But it’s the best top on earth.]
The rehearsal was held across the street at the Lorelei, a place where we ate more times than I can count. In the old days, the massive mermaid-shaped sign had dancing green paillettes for the scales of her tail, now gone, but she still conjured a mythical vibe when we drove past it into the parking lot.
Where things had lost their luster and my memories couldn’t quite match up to the cheesy, unimpressive roadside establishments, a new love and significance took their place: this wedding, surrounded by the people I’ve known the longest in my life, not missing a beat, and the chance for the newest person in my life to meet them, too.
It was a past, present, and future merging all at once and the awesomeness and raw love of it all was not lost on me.
Whenever it’s a certain meteorological condition somewhere (upper 60s and breathy, non-aggressive humidity with a certain breeze), I always say aloud “It’s like winter in the Keys,” and I’m happy that aspect of my memory was still accurate. The louvered glass windows let in an unrelenting gale off the ocean that I’d missed dearly—loud and also like a mute button all at once, if that makes sense. Your ears were maxed out but you can’t hear a thing.
Before the ceremony, we took our embarrassing red rental convertible down as far as Bahia Honda, crossing Seven Mile Bridge with the top down and glittering ocean on either side as far as the eye can see. I thought, if he only likes this part of the whole thing, that’s ok. We got out of the car for a bit, stretched our legs, sat in the sand, and crushed some airplane bottle whiskey from Alex’s gift bag.
In the end, I think he saw past it. “I don’t think my parents would like it here,” and “It’s definitely not nice like I thought it would be,”—fair, reasonable, and factual things to say. But I think he also picked up on the rest. That it was where I saw my parents be more than parents; I saw them as a couple. It was where we ate cheap food after a long day in the sun because we were beat; not because a restaurant looked nice or we’d read about its menu in a magazine. It was where I learned the name of tropical fish and to bait hooks and cast and spend 8 hours on a boat without an iPad or a Nintendo or a TV—just sun, sea, air, and patience. It was where we were a family.
It’s also a place where I lived a way no one’s ever going to live again, because those times are gone y’all. We got Facebook and wifi and phones and laptops now and the tone, it’s just different. I know you’ve got those places, too: cruises, ski mountains, the Outer Banks, coastal Maine, Padre Island, canyons, rivers out West. Wherever they were, they’re never quite exactly the same when you go back all these years later, but sometimes they get better, and sometimes they remind you of a simpler, better way to be. And that’s the highest expectation we should have, really.
The Keys don’t really raise their voice, they don’t show off, and they don’t shimmy their cans at you—and in return, they tend to set the stage for near perfect moments, if that’s what you’re looking for. The Keys are the picnic table in the perfect location, but don’t expect white linens—you bring the party, it just plays the perfect host.
They also require almost nothing from you. In which case, that makes them the best place on earth to ask the world of someone else.
Congrats, Alex and Jonathan.