This was a year without spring in upstate New York.
Technically, this is incorrect, as spring-like things transpired: trees bloomed and pollen burst from them like toys from an overstuffed piñata, and now summer is here: insects are everywhere—which would be adorable if they were kittens, but they are not, they are buzzing insects—and the deer and the bears are hanging out wherever their fancy takes them, because there is food everywhere and invitations that were not sent out by humans were ignored because grass in fields and berries on bushes is invitation enough. But winter snows and cold dreariness extended past their usual expiration date, and today is only the second day above 70°F since summer arrived last week. It is raining as I type. I am wearing a sweater. This feels like a hostage note … send heat.
Jen and I may go to the ocean this weekend, hence this re-written piece from months ago:
The Atlantic Ocean. Those tiny dots in the photo at the top are people with lives, voices, loved ones, losses. Sunburns. Mostly sunburns.
At the location from which we are taking photos, 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 in myself 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. Look:
But summer. I could put a question mark there, but for me, “But summer” is always a sighed statement. Beaches. And now there is a cover band barraging us with hits from the ’80s that I have not missed since the year I first ignored them. Enforced nostalgia.
The band at this particular beach only performs U2 covers, a band I love, but every song comes out as “With or Without You.”
The beach crowds. C R O W D S. The crowds are made of humans, I speculate.
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 this life: No one cares. That inner critical voice that I lived with and tried to escape for so long has never found its match in any person’s real voice.
For years, I was ashamed of my physique: pale skin, chained-to-a-basement-wall pale skin until it is exposed to sunlight for one minute, at which point it blisters and flakes off in cinders. And skinny-scrawny: I am a six-foot-tall, 135-pound, walking and talking tensed-up unflexing ligament. I used to have a half-joke that I did not wear shorts in summer in order to spare all of you the sight. The fact that no one ever snickered, laughed with me, or expressed anything other than annoyance at this self-hate did not convince me of anything. No one cares.
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 anyone’s sensible observation or insight.
Jen went to the water two, then three times, leaving me to do something unfamiliar: not ruminate. Not feel anything. Sunblock applied liberally, SPF 1,000,000, helped. 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 unmoving sidewalk without propping myself against any available something. Waves? The sand sliding out from under my feet as one wave slips back and then re-buries them with the next? I will fall and be washed out to sea forever and ever and ev …
It had been decades. I used to swim in the ocean, but over time 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 anyway 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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