Monday, July 22, 2019
Rockaway Beach, Oregon
We stayed in a small apartment, decorated predictably with a “seaside retreat” theme. Jars of shells. Paintings of ocean waves. Disturbing and brightly colored salt and pepper shakers in the shape of fish, their lips puckered obscenely. There’s even a framed copy of “Footprints in the Sand.”
When I was young, I had a bookmark with the familiar allegory printed on it. I remember being fourteen, a poet at heart already, and astounded by the unexpected beauty of the last line. “It was then that I carried you.” Standing in a Hallmark gift shop, I showed it to my father in awe, and used it to mark my place in my scriptures for years.
Now it feels cloying. Trite to the point of absurdity. There’s a Gideon’s Bible in one of the drawers here, alongside playing cards and a selection of puzzles. Hints that maybe we’ll all get saved on this trip.
Beckah and I share a pullout sofa bed that somehow gets absurdly smaller every night we sleep in it. I have no physical explanation for this phenomenon and conclude that it must be either metaphysical or metaphorical. A symbol of having outgrown something, maybe.
That week, I spend every morning walking on the beach. A brief 15-minute communion with my first love. The Pacific Ocean is creator and destroyer, nourishing and violent. It is genderless and powerful and bigger than I can fathom. My love for it feels the same way.
I felt quiet on the last morning, sitting in the car as we drove away from Rockaway Beach. That morning was an efficient flurry of packing and cleaning, carrying things down the stairs. Quiet cooperation. We drove through forests of dense pine and ferns and I listened to my parents talk in the front seat. I’m sad to be leaving my family behind here. I’m going to miss them.
The melancholy of already missing them feels like my heart has been dipped in warm honey. I’ve spent the last few months digging through all of my miniature childhood traumas, stumbling over anger and hurt from the past like driftwood after a storm. We’d all been broken at some point, for some reason or another, and there were times when our home was a hospital with no doctors or nurses. We were all doing the best we could with what we had. All of our volatile hearts reading abandonment in every choice everyone else made. I remember times when we were all of us so hurt and angry with each other that the air seethed with it.
But it all feels so long ago now. Not something to ignore, but something that doesn’t really matter anymore.
There are still hints of what was, in small moments, spread apart. There are moments when we are impatient with each other. When wounds barely healed break open at the slightest word. Some olive branches are dropped into the sand. There are table settings that are empty. And yet look at us, all these years later, passing marshmallows around the campfire. Talking about whether or not the morality of the artist affects the art as we drive to a restaurant in Manzanita. Smiling, sharing frozen yogurt samples. Taking turns at the dishes, at taking out and putting away bedding. Walking through brambles and weeds on that hill in Tillamook, where in five or six years, there will be a garden and a porch and a house with a giant kitchen.
It may sound trite, but it feels like the ocean no longer dashes us against the rocks. Sometimes a rogue wave knocks us off balance. Or the water rises above our knees with the kind of freezing shock that paralyzes us for a moment. But the ebb and flow of the tide doesn’t threaten to drown us anymore. Our heads are above water now.
We’re laying a foundation above the tsunami zone, at the very least.
photo credit: Dad Whittaker