Last of the True Believers
June 25, 2021
She likes to hear about her childhood.
"and then what did I do? What did I say after that? Did I really do that?" "Yes, Boo, you really did."
We're walking and then we're not. I wait and she doesn't get up so the fallback is the camera because there came a day, six thousand years ago, I think when she turned her back or put her hand up or demanded veto power. Yes, six thousand years ago at the age of awareness when we scrutinize and pick apart the right and the wrong of what we think we are or should be someday. The fact of her, at twenty and my father at eighty-one feels like the stop and start of an epoch. She sits in her chair and reads and sometimes goes in the water. He struggles over the dunes, sits in his chair and reads, and struggles over the dunes again.
I miss the architecturally accurate sand castles and the moats. I miss the calculated engineering and artfully maintained rivers and tributaries. The ebb and flow of castle specific tides fill and empty the moats. The flood current eats away at the foundation and the ebb tide takes it away. We dredge the estuaries and shore up the breech until we admit defeat and watch the ocean, a mini tsunami, carry our castle away.
My father is the architect of all things beach. He got us here in '72 and kept us on Dunes Drive through '79 and then there was a six year gap during which the island changed and every nightmare I had about the place was prophecy. We came back anyway and pretended not to see the neighborhood grow from six to sixty houses, each a little bigger than the last. It doesn't really matter when you're building castles with your grandchildren. It doesn't really matter when I can see and hear the ocean at night and first thing in the morning. It doesn't really matter because the same switch flips for all of us. It might not happen day one, but no later than Tuesday. The switch is flipped.
Unless you're working in which case it flips itself up and down, develops a dimming apparatus, and your head spins and twists until you surrender and forget about that last call. You end up in the ocean instead or face down in the sand with no choice in the matter. That perfect combination of all four elements don't even bother to conspire. You are simply gone.
That part has not changed.
She likes to hear about her childhood and I like to tell it but there's always this twist in my gut because she's ever so much more than ten or even twelve. At twenty, this is half a lifetime and she does not sit in the surf and reach for the tiny clams and sand fleas or ask for a shovel and pail and for the Architect to join her in the sand, but she does want to know.
She likes to hear about her childhood and we are walking and then we're not and she's squatting in the sand digging for the tiny clams and asking for a pail which I don't have and she looks over her shoulder.
I don't see the photographs as I take them, it is too bright and I take six when I could have taken two, just to be sure. I look in the morning, instead and I'm not prepared for the face looking over her shoulder because it's not Elizabeth I see, not right away. That's my face she's wearing. Not just the shape, and definitely not the coloring, but the expression. I saw that same face just the other day and I was forty-nine, not fifty-seven, but I don't think that's changed anymore than I think I won't be belly down, half in and half out of the surf, digging for tiny clams and sand fleas by the end of the week.
She asks about her childhood and I think about mine and the white noise wipes away the lie of time.
and I wonder when, not if, but when my father will take up the shovel.