A photo essay by Dove Hitchcock
My home away from home as a child was always my grandparents’ beach house on the Gulf of Mexico. I have walked the two block stretch between the condo and the beach a myriad of times. Countless humid evening walks to the ice cream store on 5th Avenue are merged into one in the back of my mind; I have an instilled sense of deja vu every time I make that trip. The blue room with two twin beds I’ve always shared with my brother has years worth of sand buried in the carpet as well as every nook and cranny. The city of Old Naples, Florida, embodies my childhood and upbringing. There hasn’t been a year of my life in which my family hasn’t made at least one trip back to there. A day spent in Naples is carefree; barefoot, running down the beach, no confines or curfews or responsibilities. I was a child whose very soul was barefoot, a child who needed to be free. The essence of my childhood can be found in Naples, in stubbed toes on seashells, in the warm and evanescent evening walks down 5th, and in the bored afternoons when my brother and I only had each other to play with.
When I dance, a feeling of freedom settles over me. Ballet does not restrain me like my other typical high school-aged stresses do. Dancing can be a much needed escape, and for the last few years it has been both a blessing and a strain. While dancing has led to body image issues, it has simultaneously helped me appreciate my own beauty, as well as the inherent beauty in the sport itself. When I feel my arms reach toward the heavens and my legs lose touch with the ground, I am fully present in this beauty. Although my once barefoot feet are now enclosed in pointe shoes, the spirit I had as a child on the beach hasn’t died. There have been times when it might appear dampened, but inside, it grows. I won’t let it wilt. When I dance, I channel my seven-year-old self. I laugh, I bound, and I forget any vexation. My life can feel like a thunderstorm, but I have learned to recognize that, as scary as it feels, it’s only a little rain, rain that will become sunlit dew when dawn rises.
Moving forward, it is my goal to use my restless soul as a compass and never let the small things get me down. I feel old and wise, yet I know that fifteen is just the beginning of my life and my learning. I have just stepped into a graceful leap. Someday there will be a fall, but until then, the only place I have to go is up. This picture taken from a plane window at dawn represents the taking off, the leap of fate that is my future, and that spirit in my soul that longs for freedom, adventure, and education. My main wish for the future is the opportunity to travel, learn multiple languages, and immerse myself in the world in which I live. Someday I won’t run barefoot down the beach in Naples, but in Tahiti, and Italy, and South Africa. As I grow, I will learn lessons from heartbreak and loss, but also from pure joy and love. Home and family will always be where my heart resides, but my restless soul and feet will belong to the journey.