Five years ago, I went to the beach.
It was a depressing, confusing and scary time in my life. My marriage was unraveling and I felt helpless to stop it. The kids and their mother were in California, and faced with a rare weekend to myself, I decided to take a trip to the coast. Ocean Shores, Washington was my destination…a spot which, not coincidentally, would require me to travel through Aberdeen, hometown of Kurt Cobain, a man who – despite his flaws – I consider a genius. I drove down the street he grew up on, pausing across from his house to snap a few photos, Nirvana blaring from my speakers. I then continued to the Young Street Bridge, which he famously memorialized in his song Something In The Way. Even then, twelve years after his death, the dark underbelly of the bridge was brightened by colorful graffiti and desiccated flowers left as memorials. For a huge fan like myself, this was the highlight of my trip.
But I digress. This post isn’t about dead rock stars…
I spent the night at a cheap Day’s Inn a few blocks from the beach. I tossed and turned, my mind troubled by the events of the past few months, afraid of what the future would bring. I rose early the next morning and made my way to the beach, where I wandered up and down the shore, filling my lungs full of salt air while collecting sand dollars. At some point I noticed other people on the beach, and most of them were couples, walking hand in hand, laughing and stealing kisses. My heart ached in that moment, and I felt more alone than ever before in my life. I left the beach – it was more than I could handle. My family returned the next day, and the moment I greeted them at the airport, everything was different in the worst way possible. It became painfully obvious there was no salvaging my marriage.
Of course, now when I look back on all this, I realize that our divorce was for the better, and have no regrets. We met young, drifted apart, and decided that life was too short to spend unhappy, so we did something about it. I have grown in immeasurable ways over the past five years, morphing into the person I believe I was meant to be all along. People who have been in relationships for a long time and are suddenly set free become selfish, but I think that’s a good thing: they realize the tenuous bonds of any sort of union, and maybe come to the conclusion that the only person they can rely on for their happiness is themselves. At least that was my experience, and it wasn’t a revelation that happened overnight – but it did happen, and that’s what matters most. This isn’t to say that I don’t care about other people. I do, very much. I’ve just learned to put my own needs first and stop living for others. If something isn’t working for me, I change it. What a simple philosophy. Why’d it take me so long to figure out, I wonder?
The beach still has this strange hold over me. Any beach, all beaches; if there’s sand and surf then I automatically slip into a contemplative and reflective – almost philosophical – mood. I often retreat to the coast for the day in order to clear my head, to rethink my priorities. A trip like that cleanses and refreshes my soul while also, always and inevitably, scaring me a little, because I am forever reminded of the sense of loss and despair I experienced in Ocean Shores so many years ago.
Friday was the last official day of summer vacation. The kids were in denial, Rusty going so far as declaring there was “still a month left” on August 31st, never mind the fact that their first day is September 6th. I’m a little scared that he’s a junior this year. Anyway, I wanted to do something fun with them on their last day, so we drove out to the Oregon coast. The weather was almost perfect: a sunny, cloudless sky; kinda-sorta warm (for the Oregon coast, anyway); and a breeze that wasn’t as vicious as it might have been. After awhile, I even ditched the hoodie. The kids were in their own world, splashing around in the surf and exploring the nearby caves, which left me with plenty of alone time to once again stare out at the ocean and ponder life. Only this time, I wasn’t gripped by the usual melancholy or fear of the unknown. I felt rejuvenated and alive, and while the future is by its very nature as uncertain as ever, damned if I didn’t feel a glimmer of hope for the first time in ages.
We finally packed up our stuff around 5 PM and had the entire beach to ourselves by that time, everybody else gone as the tide rolled in and the westering sun inched closer to the horizon. I decided on the spur of the moment to treat the kids to dinner at Mo’s, a local chain of casual seafood restaurants specializing in clam chowder. We ate while enjoying a view of Haystack Rock through the picture windows, a perfect end to a pretty good day.
And now, I can’t wait to return to the beach…