It hit me like a ton of bricks at the top of the Ferris wheel at Old Orchard Beach: we’re back.

My daughter was happily snapping photos of the strawberry moon as it reflected on the water. I was grinning like an idiot, hair blowing in the summer breeze. The smell of French fries and salt air was intoxicating. Was this a dream?

We felt free. Unmasked and happy. Safe and relaxed.

It was real, and it still feels like nothing short of a miracle.

After 14 months of being locked up for a crime we didn’t commit, we are living our lives again instead of just marking time. No more wishing our days away.

It was a hard-won victory. The wait was long, and time slowed to a crawl. We waited for a vaccine to be developed. That took a year. Then, we waited our turn. Finally we lined up and waited: one shot, a second shot, plus two weeks. Then it was my husband’s turn: one shot, a second shot, plus two weeks.

Finally, it was our teen’s turn: one shot, a second shot, plus two weeks. Months later, we are done.
It feels good to visit with family again, hugging, laughing and visiting without worrying one of us will infect or kill the other. It seems dramatic and almost ridiculous to describe it that way now, but that’s exactly how I felt.

Yes, I definitely was one of those people that others accused of “living in fear.” Heck, yeah, I was living in fear. Not so much for myself, but for everyone around us. As the death toll climbed, I most certainly lived each day in fear. Freezer trucks idling outside hospitals and mass graves can do that to a person.

Afraid of killing our loved ones, we isolated for more than a year, keeping our distance and masking when we did try to see one another. It was tragic. But at least in our little circle, it kept everyone safe.
So can it be that we are on the other side of that nightmare? From the top of the Ferris wheel, it all seemed miles away. The happy chatter of families and cheery cacophony from the arcade games told me yes, at least for now.

So we will squeeze all the fun we can out of this summer before we head back indoors and see what the autumn brings. We still are washing our hands, using Purell and keeping our distance as much as possible. We will go to the beach again, have cookouts, go shopping and actually try on the clothes we would like to buy.

On the way back from Old Orchard Beach, we stopped at Marden’s. I had not been to a Marden’s in about a decade. This was going to be fun.

“You’re going to love it,” I excitedly told my daughter. “It’s like a giant yard sale.”

She looked skeptical but joined me, mainly because it was too hot to stay in the car. I continued to be in high spirits as we crossed the parking lot.

“They have a song that goes like this,” I said, clearing my throat. “I should have bought it, when I saw it, at Maa-aarden’s.”

She blinked disapprovingly, looking like a mute owl, as only a teenager can. Apparently she did not enjoy the Marden’s jingle as much as I did. That was fine. She is not me, I often remind myself. We walked in silence.

Once inside, I was surprised by the changes I found. The stores have changed a bit in 10 years, and this venue was selling live plants and fresh produce from a shop in the front. This was not the Marden’s I knew.

As my daughter looked around the large, disorganized store, I felt the need to explain further.
“Sometimes I found fancy dresses here,” I told her. “They had Calvin Klein, and Gunne Sax by Jessica McClintock, and all the popular designers back in the day.”

She looked unimpressed. I told her it was difficult to buy expensive clothes when I was a teen because we had a lot of kids in the family. I often had to use the money I earned from babysitting. She nodded slowly, still looking a bit bewildered.

“I dunno,” I shrugged. “Just look around and see what you find.”

I headed one way and she went the other, and I was halfway through a rack of marked-down “Miracle suit” bathing suits when I heard an excited whisper.

“Mommmmm,” she said. “They have the same dresses here that we saw at Macy’s!”

I grinned broadly. Music to my ears. On cue, the Marden’s jingle blared on the loudspeaker overhead: “I shoulda bought it, when I saw it, at Maaaaaaar-den’s!”

I pointed upward and my daughter laughed.

She lugged five dressy dresses to my cart and carefully set them down, which meant we were off to the changing rooms. About an hour and 10 dresses later, we had a winner: a beautiful, floral Calvin Klein number she could wear anywhere and look like a million bucks. Best of all? It was 60% off retail.

These are the everyday experiences we have missed, making memories out of the mundane, and we hope to make up for lost time this summer. Can it really be that we’re back, feeling optimistic and hopeful for the future? I think so.

And the beat goes on.