Saturday, October 3, 2009

Kennebunkport, Late August

 An older woman, serving as official guardian of order on the beach, tells us she will intervene with negligent dog owners. “We don’t want you to get knocked down,” she says.  “Thank you,” I tell her.  I could easily envy all the healthy, running-about people, but I don’t.  Today they are ambiance and scenery, and my heart feels another pull.  I look past the figures in random motion to the water.  Low mist cuts through the late afternoon like the Milky Way across the night sky.  I want to put my feet in, but first I have to get there. 

I start across the sand, my legs wobbling more than usual on the shifty surface.  Larry steps away to take pictures, and I am suddenly overtaken by tears.  I’m not even sure why, except that it has been a long time since I walked on a beach.  For some, that would not matter much, but I grew up on a sandbar.  As I walk, I look down at the gray-brown grains, wet underfoot. The points of my walking poles and the soles of my shoes sink in with each step.  I pause to rest and lift my face to the soft scattered light.  All around me is the churning sound of ocean and wind, cut by breaking waves, the cries of gulls, and snatches of conversation as people pass by, call their dogs, run into the water.  The wave-riders are out in their wetsuits, and the Atlantic is obliging. 

Near the highest reach of surf I stop and lean my sticks on Larry while I roll my pants above my knees and slip off my shoes.  The sand feels hard.  It hurts, actually.  I doubt my mission for approximately three seconds, and then I’m off again.  As I traverse a band of rocks and shells I doubt again.  Ouch.  Ouch.  Ouch.  Finally, the water, warmer than I expected, cold but not frigid.  I brace myself with my sticks against the waves.  Damn, it feels good.  I’m tempted to walk all the way in, clothes and all.  But the ankle-deep tide is work enough, and I’m afraid I won’t be safe if I go much deeper, even if I am willing to drench my clothes.  So I stand and look about.  The waves roll in and out against my legs.  Under water my toes curl on smooth ridges of sand. 

I turn back, thinking I’ve gone deep enough and stood long enough.  The ocean, having reached its ebb, turns landward as well and wets my rolled-up trousers.  I hold myself against it, laughing, surprised—as much by my own strength as by the wave.  

In a few hours the beach will nearly disappear under water.  Larry and I will rest in our room, listening to wedding festivities down the hall, and talking quietly over the day while he sips a Baltic Porter.   I will tell him I think my fuzz-head hair, with my two sticks, completes the sick-person look and that I worry I’m giving the people watching me an exaggerated impression of how much trouble I’m in.  Larry will think this is very funny, because it is—as if that has ever really been a problem.  

We will talk, too, of my tears on the beach, so unexpected and sudden.  “It isn’t just that I miss the beach,” I will say, “though that’s true.  But there’s something else.”  The place where land and ocean meet has always been, to me, a place for grieving.  This will surprise Larry.  “Maybe I had less to grieve as a kid,” he will say.  For him the beach was only happy play.  I had that also.  I built drippy castles, hunted Wentletrap shells, ran, sunned, body surfed, worked as a lifeguard.  But the feeling I long for and miss is contemplative, consoling.  The ocean calls sadness out of me, like it belongs there, in the big water, and I need not carry it anymore.




  1. Hi Priscilla,

    Those are revealing pictures of you standing in the sea water. I can feel how wonderful the water must have felt around your feet. The pictures remind me of my mother, who struggled for many years to walk a few meters with a walker after she broke her hip.

    Your comments about Larry's reactions to you remind me of Steve, who had to live with me winning the fight over depression. I felt as if I was fighting my way out of a very deep hole that Steve had never in his life fallen into. I could see him standing up there in the sun and fresh air, and had to describe to him what my confined landscape was like.



Creative Commons License
Cartoons at Heaven in My Foot are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.