The Atlantic Ocean. Those tiny dots are people with lives, voices, loved ones, losses. Sunburns.
We are standing in front of the “Beach Hut” at Smith Point County Park on the South Shore of Long Island. It is 2014, one of the more recent years in history. For much of my adult life, I have sat here internally convinced that I do not like “the beach.” I do not remember when I convinced myself of this. I do not remember an unpleasant beach incident that convinced me of this piece of self-knowledge.
The ocean in winter. That has long been my love. An empty beach. The sometimes slowed waves as they become slushy with ice when it is truly cold. The cold wind finding its partner in my cold and empty heart …
Summer. Beaches. A cover band barraging us with hits from the ’80s that I have not missed in 30 years. Crowds. C R O W D S. The crowds are made of humans, I am told.
We sat there, Jen and I, and I people-watched. No one was people-watching me back, which re-taught me something that I had forgotten in my misadventures through life: No one cares. That inner critical voice that I lived with and tried to escape for so long will not find its match in someone’s real voice. For years, I was ashamed of my physique: pale, chained-to-a-basement-wall pale until exposed to one minute of sunlight, when it bursts into flame; and skinny-scrawny, a six-foot-tall, 135-pound, walking and talking tensed-up tendon. I used to have a half-joke that I did not wear shorts in summer in order to spare all of you. The fact that no one ever snickered, laughed, or expressed anything other than annoyance at this did not convince me of anything.
Everyone is as firmly lodged up inside their own head as I am in mine. That inner critical voice will not find its match in someone’s real voice, in anyone’s sensible observation.
Jen went to the water two, three times, leaving me to do something welcome: not ruminate. We were about to leave and I secretly hoped she would ask if I wanted to join her in the water.
I have muscular dystrophy and I can not stand on a perfectly flat sidewalk without propping myself against something. Waves? The sand sliding out from under my feet as one wave slips back and then re-buries them with the next?
It had been decades. I used to swim in the ocean, but I had convinced myself that I never liked it. That I liked watching the ocean from a-near.
I secretly hoped, but because Jen is Jen, she knew this and asked. I leaned against her and we slowly walked to the water. Even if I had fallen in it would be a happy story. I did not. She held me upright in a tight hug, my face on her shoulder, and later she said she could hear me smile, over the waves, over the crowd ignoring us, over the distant band covering “With or Without You.”
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