Down By the Sea

In those days, we used to go down to the beach and buy snow cones and then walk for miles along the sea’s edge, you and I.  It was beautiful there below Big Sur, and the waves would always come roaring in and leave a stretched, thin glaze behind for us to leave our footprints on.  We would walk barefoot hand in hand along that shore then, when the setting sun seemed spangled and glorious, the air salted and fresh, and we felt so alive and in love until…
   Of course we’d always been in love.  Ever since that first day of high school in Monterey when we sat beside each other in Speech class.  Your eyes were wells that I wanted to fall into then.  I trembled just looking at you.  And there are no words to tell how I felt when you looked at me when you talked.  No words at all.
   I remember when I picked you up for our first date in my dad’s station wagon one Saturday that same Spring.  I still had my permit then, but I was very proud.  You wore a tan jumper, and your long brown hair was perfect, just perfect.  When we got to the beach, I bought you a strawberry snow cone, the first of the season.  Two years later, when I got my class ring, you begged to wear it, with an insert inside so it wouldn’t slip off your finger.
   We loved the same things, you and I, and I even knew that if you liked some new thing, I would like it too.  That’s just the way it was, never minding the others with their struts and poses.  We were complete together, and not even college could change us.  It was real, you see.
   Nevertheless, you left me for a long, long time…

   “Debbie–what are you doing?”
   We were in a little beach cove, beside some jutting rocks at the bottom of a cliff south of Big Sur.  It was almost fall by then, and we’d just graduated the previous spring from USC.  You lay next to me, and, while I was writing a poem for you, you started covering me with sand.  As I smiled and watched, it was hard to believe we would finally be married in just two more weeks.
   “I’ve been thinking about the honeymoon, Jim,” you confessed.  “Do you really think Hawaii is a good idea right now?  I know we’ve been saving a long time, but–“
   “You mean you don’t think you’ll like Hawaii?”
   “Yes, but there are other things to consider, aren’t there?”
   I grinned.  “Who needs furniture when we’ve got each other, honey?  We’ll manage.”
   You didn’t say anything for a long while after that.  You just kept dropping sand on my legs and patting it down.  You would scoop it up with both hands, and it felt so warm and wet under the almost-autumn sky.
   That was when I put aside the poem I was writing.  Just two more weeks, I was thinking as you went over to where the sand had drifted against the rocks and took great handfuls to pile on top of me in a wet mound.  You covered my chest next, then my arms, and I remember how cute you looked, wearing your blue bathing suit–and with your skin so tanned from that summer we’d agreed you shouldn’t work.  But you never smiled once doing it, not once did you smile.  And then, with your knees beside my head, you looked down at me and somehow found the courage to say it.
   “Jim?”
   I looked at you above me, up into those eyes I loved, and saw a tear.  You’d not smiled once, I realized, and I’d done nothing to change that.  Maybe if I’d paid attention–?
   Maybe.  But who’s to say?  You’d not smiled once, and now there was a tear between us.
   “What is it, Deb?”
   “Jim, I…”
   “What?”
   “I’ve…been seeing another man.”
   You were staring at the sand when you said it.  That must have made it easier, because you cried and cried, and let it all out of you quickly then:  “He’s a teacher, and his name is Brad, and I met him in May.  I never expected it to go this far…  Oh Jimmy, I’m so sorry!  But I can’t marry you, not now.  It just won’t work, don’t you see?  I just found out I’m pregnant, and, oh, Jim, JIM–the baby is his!”
   There was self-contempt in your voice as you said it, and maybe a hint of bitterness.
   And that was when you ran.
   I don’t know why I stayed there in the sand so long, or why I didn’t try to stop you.  I suppose it was the shock that kept me–not shock at what you’d done, but because you’d held this secret from me.
   I’d always thought of us as ONE, you see.
   I waited years for you to return.  You did come back twice, but not alone.  And then one night, to this little cove, you came and knelt and cried in the very spot.  You thrashed the hard, wet sand with your open palms while that same pain and loss I’d felt lit your eyes, and then you pleaded “Where did you go?  Oh, Jimmy–WHERE DID YOU GO?”
   But I never left.  It was you who left.  You went away, part out of fear, and part out of blindness, and then–finally–you returned.
   I composed a new poem for the occasion, and I suppose you must have known it, because we’re together now.  We’re together, and that’s all that matters in the end.

          Bury me, darling,
          Right up to my chin,
          Neck deep in beach sand,
           High tide rolling in.

           I’ll wait here forever,
           Then when you come by,
           We’ll bury you, darling,
           So love will not die.

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