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Writing Sample Assignment: A Lowcountry Love Ballad

Target Publications: New York Times Modern Love Column or Hilton Head Island Packet (local newspaper)

Abstract: A simple story about a guy and a girl falling in love to the beat of James Taylor in the lowcountry. 

Keywords: Love, Modern Love, Love Story, NYT, New York Times, NYT Modern Love, New York Times Modern Love, Modern Love Column, James Taylor, Carolina, North Carolina, South Carolina, Carolina In My Mind, Beach, Low Country, Hilton Head, Hilton Head Island, HHI 

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A Lowcountry Love Ballad

There’s something about a James Taylor song. Like Springsteen to others, James Taylor has a way of making me feel like I’m right where I’m supposed to be. This was true ten years ago as I stepped into the salty Carolina beach air, my city feet tender on the gritty boardwalk. It is still true today as I feel the sweet heft of a baby on my hip, slowly stirring dinner on the stove, reveling in the mundane moments of young parenthood.

That first summer was all “How Sweet It Is.” Falling in love in New York City is something everyone should experience. He and I were coworkers and fast friends, our conversations as long as the avenues we endlessly walked on Sunday mornings, the city awake with just one eye open. As the temperatures rose, so did the energy between us. In cahoots at a mutual friend’s sloppy rooftop birthday party, we escaped to take a walk by the Hudson. As they are known to do, our moonlight walk led to a first kiss and then, to an “us.” The great recession had its grip on our careers and wallets, but we dreamt up our first vacation anyway, giddy with our new relationship and the chance to trade our city island for a southern one. 

As we stepped onto the quaint Charleston tarmac, the air was thick with the end summer and the beginning of forever. 

“Uh, when was the last time you drove?” he asked, his brow woven with anxiety and a glimmer of embarrassment. 

“I guess…last year when I was home for Christmas?”

We both laughed, two small town kids turned city mice, afraid of getting behind the wheel after years of doing the subway shuffle. Ultimately, he drove and we were off, legs stuck to the pleather rental car seats as we wound our way down live oak-lined roads, a veil of spanish moss trailing from one exquisite branch to the next. 

In awe, he breathed, “I’ve never seen anything like this. How did we decide to come down here again?”

An answer to his question, the comforting guitar riff of “Carolina In My Mind,” strummed out from the radio. I grabbed his hand and echoed Taylor’s ode to his home state, “There’s just something about Carolina I guess,” and in my mind, “There’s just something about you, too.” 

With my freshly painted toes tapping the dash to the languid beat of Taylor’s signature song, we crested the gleaming white bridge that connects mainland South Carolina to Hilton Head Island. Our heart rates slowed as we took in the island’s golden hour, palmetto trees dancing lazily in the breeze. I released my hair from its regular Monday – Friday ponytail and let it fly wild as we rolled down our windows and breathed more deeply than we had in the last 1,460 days spent in Manhattan. 

He nestled our rental into a sandy parking spot looking over the beach and we took in the little beach resort we had booked last-minute on Hotwire. The resort was no Shangri-La, but I can still smell its perfect mix of salt, jasmine and musty driftwood. We checked in and went straight to the beach, reveling in the expanse and the early evening stars starting to show themselves in the sky. 

“I don’t remember the last time I saw stars.”

“It’s been awhile. I love the city,” I responded as I sat back against a dune, “but places like this remind me I could never be there forever.”

The dusk light settled on his face as he turned to me, eyes sparkling, “I can think of someone I could be next to forever, though.”

“Bob, your trading partner at the bank?” I demurred.

He snorted, spitting out his Landshark in the process. “Can you imagine? We’d eat nothing but steak and mayo sandwiches.” 

“Bob does have an affinity for the finer things, doesn’t he?” I laughed, nursing my gin and tonic.

And then, “I love you, Katie.” Just like that, it was out there. 

The many happy hour laughs, two years of friendship and hours of email banter summed up into those three powerful words. My heart stuck in my throat and my cheeks ached from smiling so much.  “I love you too, B.” 

“You mean all those nights sharing terrible chili nachos and flat beer at our work bar weren’t for nothing?”

I grinned again. He did, too. As a band started up at the resort behind us, we linked sandy hands, stood up and danced under the stars to a cover of “Your Smiling Face,” the beach cool beneath our feet as evening made way for night.

Tonight we’ll slow dance in the kitchen after the kids go to bed. Our lives are a lot more “Everyday” and “Family Man” now, full of sweetness and challenge, joy and growth. We’re no longer New Yorkers; like Taylor, we’re North Carolinians. We’ve returned to that beach and sleepy resort more times than I can count. It is where he proposed, where we toasted our first year of marriage, where our babies first wiggled their toes in the Atlantic and where we dream of settling someday when we’re gray.

As I put the baby to bed, I hear our son humming across the hallway as he tinkers with his matchbox cars and sticker collection. I pad slowly to his door and as I stare at the back of his sandy blonde head, I realize two things. He’s humming, “Our Town,” a more recent James Taylor song from the movie, “Cars,” our son’s current obsession; he’s caught on to the power of Taylor, too. And perhaps most importantly, I am right where I’m meant to be.

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