Before it fills with colorful umbrellas, large beach towels, picnic baskets and coolers; before the radios and girls wearing bikinis arrive, before the sandcastles are built and the the kids start splashing each other, before the arrival of the first surf board or boat–before all these things , there is nothing. In the pre-dawn hours, the sky over the ocean is the softest shade of blue. Long, white trailing clouds highlight the perfect combination of pink and lavender streaking the sky. When the sun begins to wake up, only soft rays of light sparkle on the water’s surface, making the scene before me feel like a Thomas Kincaid painting. A lone sea-gull or bald eagle soars high in the air, right in front of the rising sun. Its call, and the melodic rhythm of the tide are the only sounds. It is that sound, the rushing sound of the white, foamy tide as it crashes against one of the outlying rocks along the shore, that I have longed to hear: that could simultaneously lull me to sleep and inspire me to greatness.This is the scene of peace. The salty smell of the air does more than provide oxygen for my lungs: it makes my entire body feel alive, however momentary the feeling might be. Within a few hours, there will be handprints, footprints, names carved inside stick drawn hearts all imprinted onto the smooth, soft, pristine white sand but, for now, the only imprint of human visitation is that of my body.
Suddenly, at the water’s edge, I see her….Becca. She is wearing the most beautiful dress, a flowing, strapless dress that’s soaked at the bottom’s edges. My eyes stare as I sit momentarily frozen in my spot. I feel the wind brush up against my face, blowing a strand of my coal-black hair across my cheek, the end getting caught in the corner of my mouth. Becca’s dress is emerald green, her favorite color. I watch as she bends down and smooths the sand with her hand. I know her fingers: they are long and slender. Unconsciously, I reach my hand down into the sand beside my body, feeling as she does for some unknown treasure waiting on me, buried beneath the mounds of white sand. She picks something up, but my fingers grasp only the fine grain of sand as I bring my own hand up again so, instead, I watch Becca examine her newfound treasure.
She smiles: I can tell not because I am close enough to see that clearly but because she always tips her head to the right, just a bit, just the way she’s doing now, when she smiles. She truly is beautiful. When she tips her head back and laughs at something in her mind, the spell is broken: I get up to greet her. The grains of sand get stuck in between my toes as I walk nearer. It feels like I am a long way away from her, so I start running across the sand. The rushing of the tide sounds loud now in my ears and I am sure that it is the reason she cannot hear me calling her name. She doesn’t seem to be getting closer to me, though: suddenly, I hear the splash of water, feel my feet and ankles turn cool and wet; all at once, I realize I am standing now in the water–but Becca isn’t.
I turn around, frantically looking for her, when I see to the distance, a woman kneeling and playing with a little girl. The little girl is laughing, the woman throwing her into the air. My eyes jerk close, that’s a scene I’ve witnessed before, and I know now that I am seeing images of things that are not there. Becca is gone, gone because she wanted to be, gone because of me.
“What’s goin’ on tomorrow?” I’d asked.
“Nothin’.” She replied and, stupid me, I hadn’t pressed for details, I had just pursed my lips and nodded, believing that she was in that stage of teenage rebellion. I should have known better. Tomorrow came, I went to work, believing Becca was on the bus to school. But… but she hadn’t been.
She hadn’t been.
And now, here I was, alone except for the images of my mind that seemed so real I chased them and the vastness of an ocean that was nothing but an illusion. The ocean appeared peaceful, calm and serene — but that was an illusion. It was deceptive: ask any captain who’d led a boat into deep waters, having been promised sunny conditions, then been unexpectedly faced with a fierce storm. There was nothing peaceful, calm or serene about life.
I should know.
I didn’t know the salt leaking into the corner of my mouth was from my tears until I heard a giant sob that, since there wasn’t anyone else on the beach, must have come from me. I didn’t realize that I was sobbing so hard my body was leaned forward until I felt the splash of water again, felt my dress soak and cling to my body. I didn’t care anymore. My hands covered my face and I cried. I cried as if it were the last time I’d ever have to cry again. The most majestic, beautiful place on earth was, in reality, a lonesome, dreary place to be: just like most of the world’s places were.
I don’t know how long I cried, sitting on my knees in the water, allowing the rush of the waves to push me forward every time the tide came in. All I know is that memories of Becca as an infant rushed to my brain: I saw myself sitting in a wooden rocker, holding her tiny body against mine, reading “Goodnight Moon” every single night. Memories of Becca as a one year old, lip quivering, eyes wide with confusion and heartbreak, mouth open wide on a scream, demanding to know why I would not give her the pacy with Elmo’s face on it anymore, assailed me. Memories of Becca as a ten-year-old, complaining that she had already cleaned her room and had already done her homework came to my mind: I could so clearly see her round as a button face, her defiant hazel-nut eyes. Then came memories of Becca, on her thirteenth birthday, standing beside Prince, her Quarter horse, the one she’d begged me for: laughter bubbled on her lips and sparkled in those eyes, her auburn hair bounced in its ponytail. Finally, Becca, at the beginning of her sixteenth year: she’d been so excited about being sixteen, her heart set on winning the affection of the high school quarterback, Brick.
Tears stung my eyes again, forcing my mind back to the present. I can’t stay here. I have to go. Life might be an illusion, one big lie. But Becca’s eight year old brother Clay did not know that. I didn’t want to do to him what Becca had done to me. I turned and headed out of the water. The sand stuck to my feet now, since they were wet, and I wondered how I’d get them clean again. I walked and walked, gathered up my shoes and headed back up the steep hill to my car.
You’re stronger than the ocean. You just don’t know it.
As if struck by lightening, I halted, and spun around to stare at the ocean once more. I’d told Becca that, “eight thousand four hundred seventy six times”, she’d joked. I’d wanted her to believe that, no matter the obstacle, it was within her power to overcome it because “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” I swallowed hard, then licked my cracked bottom lip. Then I turned and headed for the car again. I’d taken a few steps when I found myself faltering. I turned to look at the water again, and it was then that I felt it twisting my stomach.
Hope. That’s what the ocean inspired in me. I could feel it stirring in my heart even as I looked at it. The sky was bright now, the lone sea-gull had been joined by birds of multiple origins, the sun quickly brightened the whole postcard-like scene. From the corner of my right eye, I could see a real family headed setting up camp in the sand, the mother lathering lotion on the young girl. They were going to have fun today. Hope tastes funny to me, now. It turns my stomach upside down. It makes me feel guilty sometimes, when I let it. But…still…
As I stared out at the majestic ocean, felt its cool and perfect sand between my toes, I could not help feel the definite ridges of hope rise in me. Maybe it was an illusion, this paradise-like scene. Maybe the hope I felt was an illusion, too. But hope arose from illusions and, if an illusion was required to motivate me to care for my son, then it was an illusion I longed to see and to feel. I breathed in deeply the salty air once more, closing my eyes. You can actually smell the ocean when you’re close enough to it. When my eyes opened, my heart was still saddened, but felt stronger as if I’d just run a mile. I’d sought to instill a sense of hope in Becca; I hadn’t succeeded. But, the question wasn’t about Becca anymore or whether or not there was hope, sufficient enough to sustain her through the rest of the day.
It was about me.
My heart was still saddened but, as I saw the ocean, the paradise of peace and beauty, I found a small smile. I turned, finally, to head toward the car again. As I did, I found myself repeating the same thing over and over in my head. I wasn’t convinced yet that I believed it but, if it were true, then all was not lost.
You’re stronger than the ocean. You just don’t know it.
(photo credited to: http://www.marcad.com/travel/Oregon/Gorgeous%20Oregon%20Coast_small.jpg)