Nearly two decades ago, I left my heart by the ocean.
Every year, for one glorious week, I return to Ocean City, Md., searching for it, but instead I find that my love for the sea has grown even stronger and that it is harder and harder to say goodbye.
The grains of sand that adorn the shoreline remind me of the dozens of memories I've created at the place I would love to one day call home.
Growing up, my family went down with my cousins and aunt and uncle, spending a week together in a bayside retreat, making memories that I still find myself going back to every now and then.
I remember our miniature golf outings or innings since we once made a golf course throughout the condo because it was raining.
I remember digging big holes in the sand and burying my cousin.
I remember jumping through the waves for hours.
I remember enjoying ice cream sandwiches on the beach.
I remember walking into the sliding glass door because I was so excited to be there that I didn't realize my mother closed the door behind her.
I remember the excited feelings I had every year we decided to make that 220-mile trek from our house to the shore.
But as the years went on and I grew up, my parents and I (and also my best friend Laura) moved from the bayside to the oceanfront condominiums.
From that point on, I was hooked and falling more and more in love with each passing season.
We leapfrogged around the oceanfront scene, trying to find the perfect room to call our one-week-a-year vacation home. First it was the Pyramid, then Marigot Beach, then Irene, English Towers, High Point North, and Century I.
We loved all the rooms but it wasn't until I was grown up and dating Bob that I found the room I had been waiting for all my life. The room, located on the 17th floor of the Golden Sands, met all the necessary criteria I needed in a condo and sealed the deal with a kiss of ocean spray against the windows.
As I stood on that balcony overlooking the ocean for the first time four years ago, I realized that this was the room where I wanted to spend many a nights enjoying the sounds of the waves crashing onto the beach. This was the location where I wanted to make memories that I will laugh about years down the road. I was finally home (away from home), at least in my mind, but unfortunately this room is not, and probably will never be MY very own.
Over the next two seasons, we found ourselves back at the same room, enjoying everything it had to offer, including a full wall of windows in our bedroom that let us welcome each new day as we looked out over the water and out to the horizon; or down onto the private beach before the public beach that was the site of a number of beautiful shore weddings.
But it was three years ago that will stay in my mind for all time.
During that trip to Ocean City, I found my heart and my husband by the water as he asked me, as we stood in the setting sun, to be his wife. I said yes to his proposal and added yet another love to my heart before leaving it sitting on the sand, watching the salty sea waves crash against the beach once again.
Since then, Ocean City, Md., has become even more of a special place to me (and now my husband of nearly two years) and I find myself thinking about it, smelling the salty sweet air, dreaming of sitting on the beach or walking the coastline as the waves lap at my toes, and envisioning a place of my own overlooking the water.
But until that day comes, I will enjoy every moment, every breath of ocean air for that one week a year when I am reunited with the first love of my life.