I. The Beach
Last week, I found myself on a beach (it’s a long story). I never get excited over the prospect of going to the beach. I grew up near the water my entire life, so it’s never anything I’ve ever been deprived of. Besides, I lived in Virginia Beach for nine years and spent my summers in the cool Atlantic water…Texas beaches just don’t hold a candle to Virginia beaches. Yes, I’m a pretentious beach snob.
But I found myself on a beach that day for the first time in years, and instead of being disappointed, I was all, “SHIT YEAH, LET’S GO TO THE BEACH!” as if I hadn’t spent my childhood in one. Perhaps it’s because this beach was a remnant of something familiar and safe, a haven for me from a tense environment. Passersby must have thought it was my first time at the beach. I walked out on the jetties, feeling like an explorer as I gingerly made my way over the rocks. I took off my shoes and socks, ignored ghosts of warnings past about wading in ocean water without proper footwear, and gleefully skipped around in the water. With the warm Gulf current, cool breeze on my face, and salt on my lips, I was returning to the simpler times of my childhood. I felt the tensions ebb away with each watery step. I hunted for seashells, avoided jellyfish, and picked up a hermit crab.
I was exploring a jetty when I saw a little boy happily bounding towards the rocks. “Wait for Paw-Paw” the man following him called. He was an older man, in a typical South Texan outfit – t-shirt, shorts, sandals, and cap.
The little boy looked so happy as he gleefully skipped towards the edge of the jetty that I grinned at him as he ran past me. I greeted his grandfather and we remarked how peaceful the atmosphere was.
I was sorting through a motley assortment of ugly and broken shells when I heard Paw-Paw in conversation with his little grandson. “Ok, if you want to, we’ll go say hi, but THEN we have to go, okay?” Then I heard him say, “Excuse me, miss.” I turned around to see Paw-Paw and the little boy, who was looking up at me shyly. “He didn’t want to leave without saying hi to you,” Paw Paw said resignedly, but with good humor, launching into an amusing commentary on how he swore this was his grandson’s idea, that he was a chick magnet, and that his little grandson would probably end up being a serial killer when he grew up.
I smiled at the little boy. “What’s your name?” I asked. “I’m Jenny.” He looked down, not meeting my gaze. “It’s Brayden,” Paw-Paw said. “Brayden, say hi to Jenny.” “How old are you, Brayden?” I asked. Brayden looked at me and looked away in a wave of shyness. “He’s three,” Paw-Paw supplied, then, “I don’t know why he’s not talking, it was his idea. Come on, Brayden.” Paw-Paw said goodbye to me, and I waved to little Brayden.
I continued through my search of shells when I heard a little voice above me. I looked up to see Brayden on the dock, looking at me. Ignoring his grandfather’s repeated pleas to leave, he said, “What are you doing?” “Looking for shells,” I replied. “I want one,” he said, extending his small fist. “Is he allowed to have a shell?” I asked Paw-Paw, concerned about choking hazards. “I don’t care,” he said, clearly in a hurry. “Here’s a pretty one for you,” I said, extending a shell with a pearly sheen. Brayden took it with a huge grin on his face. “Say thank you!” Paw-Paw admonished. Brayden looked at me, said, “Thank you!” quickly, and ran off.
A moment later, I heard toddler gibberish. I looked up to see Brayden again. “What did you say?” I asked. “Can I have one for my Paw-Paw?” I handed Brayden another shell. “Thank you!” he called, running off into the sunshine and his grandfather’s arms.
III. The Seedy Underworld of Beaches
I realized I was alone.
It went against every single tenet of my childhood education supplied by overprotective parenting and compulsory America’s Most Wanted viewing. I was a woman by myself, strolling along the beach. It seemed like the perfect opener to an episode of Forensic Files.
It was quiet. Stray beer cans were littered along the beach, the only clues to wilder nights that this serene beach hosted. I was walking along the edge of the rolling tide, my shoes off, toes delightfully in the sand, when I noted a truck parked in the lot. A man stayed inside of it.
I felt self-conscious. I looked over my shoulder and didn’t see anyone else. My cries for help would have been lost to the breeze. I turned around and made my way back to my shoes, looking over my shoulder periodically. I left the beach and started walking along the sidewalk. Since I was by myself, since my childhood instinct of Always Staying Safe and Protecting Yourself From Stranger Danger had kicked in, I couldn’t stop myself from being paranoid, even in this supposedly relaxing environment environment. Seeing boats docked in the water, I thought of Dexter Morgan, the fictional serial killer who takes his dismembered victims’ bodies on his boat and dumps them in the Florida Bay.
I walked resolutely but without a defined path, wanting to explore anything I encountered. It was so quiet and desolate that I thought it would be an appropriate time to practice for my upcoming performance. I started singly softly, and as I did, I looked across the street. An entire family was sitting on their front porch, watching me. So much for being alone, and so much for singing.
As I walked, I noted a police car driving slowly, as if the cop was watching me from his rear view mirror. A couple of minutes later, it circled again. I considered that maybe he found me suspicious. After all, I was ambling all by myself in the middle of day, dressed in a nondescript gray t-shirt and blue jeans. What would be a non-guilty way of not acknowledging a police car as it drove past you? I stared straight ahead as I sensed the car driving slowly.
I felt a momentary thrill that maybe, just maybe, this policeman found me suspicious. We’re talking about someone whose biggest criminal offense to date has been a speeding ticket. But to my slight disappointment, the police car drove on, allowing me to continue my walk on a sunny warm day without thinking any more about crime and the seedy underworld of beaches.