The beach was cold; dreary, the last of summer’s days now passing into fall. A young boy trudged through the sand, warm water washing up between the toes of his right foot, his left sliding in the dry sand; his balance off, the struggle enjoyable after so much of his young life in the hospital.
His parents sat quietly watching from afar, their beach house moaning, creaking with every shift of the ocean wind. There was a storm at sea, the father looking out at the dark clouds in the distance, the quickening of it matching in time the beating of his heart, the sharp pain in his chest, tears in his eyes, his wife’s hand tight within his own.
They watched their son, blonde, blue eyed, slender; only seven years old, fighting the wind, a warrior’s soul challenged by all the battles confronting him these last two years. The vision of their mind’s eye fighting the reality they saw before them. Pale, limping, hair mostly gone, Jonathan’s right hand, crooked, tucked into his side, so much damage to his little body from Cancer and the many treatments all talking there toll in so many ways.
His mother smiled, her memories shining through her tears watching as her son played in the lapping water, watching his footprints form, a whimsical trail of sorrows being slowly left behind. Emily felt every footprint as if it were a hammer pounding away at her very soul; feeling the catch in her throat, her pounding heart riding the waves which rolled in from so far away.
It was the grandeur of the Pacific Ocean that first drew them here. Her young mid-western upbringing mesmerized by the sunsets that drowned the very light of day, waiting each night to see it reborn as it crept quietly above the mountains to the east.
They bought into the time share before knowing she was pregnant with Jonathan, both her and her husband taught at Berkeley, sometimes working the summers; but every other year or so they made it here. It was Jonathan’s favorite place to explore; R and R for the military minded, rest and relaxation from a hard battle won, life continuing to exist beyond the chaos all battles bring to the mind.
Their temporary home slouched like an old man going to pouch. Well kept at one time, legs becoming weak, hair disappearing more and more every year, eyes still blue and bright; hard instead of soft, squint lines replacing the once infectious smiles. Yet for all its surface views, there was yet a core of steel deep within, a density tough and hard, hammered by all the storms that come to rage within every soul.
The area was something of a Hitchcock legacy; ‘The Birds’, a suspense thriller, much of which had been filmed on the shores of Bodega Bay, kept the air surreal, every seagull that flew by a bit to close pushed every eye to watch nervously. A turn of the head, an eye for the shadow when they flew by, innocent as nature is always innocent, yet declared guilty by the over-active dreams of every tourist that came to peek into the dreams of what had been; once upon a time.
Their house sat upon a two acre meadow like knoll just off Coastal Highway. Santa Rosa and Sacramento to the East, San Francisco to the South, the highway winding its way north and south along the craggy coastline.
The San Andreas Fault runs parallel to the coastline bisecting Bodega Head; a four mile long peninsula sheltering the shallow sandy Bodega Bay. Separated by a jetty, the coast curves inward protecting Bodega Harbor, and the residents that call it home.
Over the centuries the tidal forces of humanity waged a constant battle to survive. The Miwok Indians; ‘The First People,’ came, then Spanish explorers searching for riches, then homesteaders claiming the land, bringing the madness of violent social change along the way. It is the way of the world, the seagull knowing it best, where change comes, so chaos does as well. An unobserved order to something new, something great, something terrible, the edges of the fire always shining the brightest; yet so to comes the heat, the burning, the passion of hope and hopelessness entwined.
The seagulls swirled within the drafts of wind that carried them so high aloft. They were watching, waiting, darting this way and that, hungry noises squawking in the early morning race for sustenance. They swallowed anything they found, a small morsel of fish, a sea sodden French Fry from someone’s last beach picnic, a piece of bread, or often along these treacherous waters; life now gone, washed ashore to feed the flurry of winged serpents greedily picking, fighting, stealing from each other what they could.
A horn blew, the seagulls leaped into the air as a line of cars drove toward the house, scattering the birds from the road-kill battle that had raged off and on for most of the morning. There wasn’t much traffic along this part of the highway. It was more a scenic route of laid back pleasure rather than the furious foaming road-rage get-me-there as soon as I can frenzy, which so often cascaded from the minds of so many forty year old four year old’s.
The man stood up, helping his wife off the porch swing, both walking down the steps onto the sandy soil, moving around to the front of the house as several cars drove into the driveway. It was a somber presence taking even the voices of the arriving children for moments at a time. Jonathan’s parents; Emily and Walker waved at their friends and family, the welcomes, salutations, tight grins, handshakes, and chatterboxes all a relief from the steady wind wailing out the cadence of life passing them by.
That was the legacy of this place, this time. Young men and woman searching, seeking, making movies, going to movies, a furious energy of youthful life changing the world; the chaos, an unseen order to the madness that now quiet, reflected what lives were spent, what they were spent on. It was the same for all generations; the truth of rebellion was the essence of their conformity.
It is the youthful madness to need change without regard to thought, to see the surface of life without the depth of truth; the urge to explore innate, yet still to learn the depths of what we see, the patterns, the introspection and patience that comes to define the wisdom of knowing right over wrong, good over evil.
Such vision, such wisdom gives to us the gift of seeing the mirror image of who we can be, rather than the reflection of what others come to make of us. It is this magical eye; this thought, looking at the world, coming to know the difference that defines ones soul, coming to have feelings that define ones heart. Knowing the touch of another, the creation of another that comes to give us the understanding of what love was always meant to be.
Emily glanced wistfully over her shoulder, looking at the memories of her son. Seeing him play, laughing wildly, the shadows of herself and Walker leaping in and out of the surf. The bond they had so strong, the bond to life that Jonathon came so strongly to be.
The women wore summer dresses, the younger men wore pressed chino pants, formal shirts with narrow ties, the younger academics and students in the group looking the part of what they were. Mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, every age and every color all mesmerized by the emotional flavors of what their daily lives were this day.
Jonathan watched from the beach; his smile wide with joy as the arriving children raced laughing down the hill. “Hi dad, mom, I was hoping you would be here early.” Emily stepping into her father’s warm hug, her mother taking her arm and walking toward the back porch; her father stepping next to Walker, bringing his arm up and taking him under his wing. With bowed head they walked together, the act saying what men say to each other when stressed by life, all without a word passing between them.
“Who’s the little boy;” Alex asked, pointing to Jonathan who was walking towards them. Annie paused from her architectural endeavors of building a sand-castle, looking as she did to where the boy was pointing. “Oh that’s Jonathan. He’s my cousin.” Slurring her words as her seven year old mind attempted to push pass the limited physical skills of her five year old body.
Without a word Jonathan crouched down next to Annie, working diligently to help her bring form to the wet sand they found so pleasing to the touch. Gritty, wet, squishy, the granules sticking to their arms, the dryer sand tinkling out from between their fingers.
Alex watched the two playing in the sand, sitting down after a few seconds, enjoying the quiet moments of creation to which all find peace when their hearts are pure. There was something odd about the boy, his body indistinct, one moment looking sick, the other, smiling back at him; long golden hair, blue eyes sharp with intelligence, moving with an ethereal grace.
The adults were walking down to the shore line, some slogging without grace, others slipping and sliding as we all do at times in thick dry sand. Finding purchase the closer to the water they came, resignation for the ruined shoes, the wish of their friends to be here for them. It was for Jonathan, the cost was minor compared to the heartache they all felt this day.
“Annie? Alex? Come along its time.” Annie stood up looking back at her parents; her aunt Emily, waving for her to come along, smiling as she waited. Alex ran ahead not really understanding what it was they were doing here today. He’d never met Jonathan, though his parents had talked about him at times. Annie he knew, they both went to the Berkeley day care center while their parents were at work.
Annie grabbed Jonathon’s hand, pulling him with her, not wanting him to leave. His form solid, strong, the way she remembered him before he became sick. The three kids walked, the families gathering up the other children, the hard-packed sand wet, waves lapping over their feet. More than one admonishment chiding the kids for wearing their shoes into the surf; but it was half-hearted, none having the heart to discipline their children this day.
Jonathon walked with Annie, coming to stand between his mother and father. The two holding hands, the Mickey-mouse painted ceramic urn holding their hearts entwined. Quiet prayers as they stepped into the surf, taking the lid off the urn, dark black ashes flying into the wind, floating on the waves, even the seagulls seemed quiet for a moment.
Jonathan touched his mother’s summer dress, the sleeve of his father’s shirt moving out to the water. Alex pulling on his mother’s dress asking her to look. “Look mom the little boy on the water;” his mother shooing him quiet, not wanting to interrupt the service. The minister’s quiet words of faith and peace breaking out among the waves and Jonathon’s ashes slowly disappeared into the wind and surf.
Annie drew in her breath as Jonathon’s hand slowly pulled away, a smile on his face. “Where are you going Jonathon?” Heads turning as the little girls question struck to the heart of each one there; chills moving coldly along their spines. “What do you see Annie?” Emily asked; her face pale, her body shaking with emotion. “It’s Jonathon Aunt Em; he’s going away, I don’t want him to go away!” Tears and sobs broke from many; but a sad smile from Emily, knowing as she did that life never really ends.
“Look mom;” Alex said pointing out into the bay. The clouds had formed just above the surf, the storm swirling, a light shining through, shapes forming. A mirage of form and flow, color and light, flavors of life within the Park they came to see. Jonathon waving goodbye as he walked into the park, blowing his mother a kiss as he always had to the day he died.
Alex jumping up and down, trying to pull his mother toward the Park he wanted to play in. “Come on mom; let me go; the boy went to the Park. Why can’t I?”
You missed those you love, those you are parted from for a time, yet the gladness of what would one day be, was the hope that kept life alive. For life isn’t just about surviving, for the beating of a heart filled with misery is the same as one that finds love. No life is about the giving, that essence of love that grows stronger for the effort to give it away every second of every hour of every day.
Emily held her husband’s hand, reaching out with the other to capture the kiss that flew her way . . .