I asked for angels today. Something is happening, some shift or cleansing, or judgment or atoning. Some doubt. Is this where I even belong?
I chose to surf. Instead of socializing, instead of impressing a new friend, instead of validation. I chose the ocean. I said, ‘Ok universe, in this pure place, send me what I am supposed to have. Send me my people.’
I pulled into the pot-holed parking lot, abandoned under a cloudy sky and at the tail end of a dying swell. Only one car sat nosed up to the blue barrel trash cans. A little white Yaris. Amy.
I looked out, she’d just started paddling her pink longboard to the empty break. I smiled. I’d be right behind her, and we would surf until after dark, as usual. Wait for each other on the shore, not long enough to chit chat, just long enough to make sure we made it back safe.
I watched her catch a couple waves as I pulled on my suit, waxed my board, locked my car and hid my keys in their secret spot. As more cars lumbered in for the small sunset swell, I jogged to the water, dove out onto my board, and paddled out.
Amy squinted at me without her contacts, then smiled. Told me about her bad fall, her aching neck. I started telling her about my drama, the saga of insecurities and hurt feelings and a ruined friendship.
She caught a wave, leaving me in sudden silence with the sharp taste of poison on my tongue. So strong, so obvious that I realized with a shock, “This is my addiction. This sharing, this expressing, this seeking validation to ease pain. This is my growth, my vice, and what I need to purge.”
I looked around. A father was pushing his son into waves. The five-year-old, clipped into an oversized life jacket, screamed as he shot down the face, stood up and squatted to ride the wave into shore. Then shouted, a sweet singing voice, “Papa! Papa!” as he worked his little arms to paddle back out.
“Have you met this kid?” asked Amy, beaming. “He’s like a little man.” And she paddled over to say hi. I sat and watched, letting the happy family and the pure ocean reflect and refract the poison in my veins.
I rode a couple and kept to the task of watching my thoughts, of holding the hiccuping impulse to share. I would do this work, and I would get better, would do better next time. Then I heard a small voice hooting my name. A teenager on a short board, paddling with one hand, waving with the other each time she rose into view. Her father paddled just ahead, and greeted me with his peaceful, nurturing smile. It was Mica and Cassie, my favorite sassy grom, who I’d met surfing on Valentine’s day. My twin Single Pringle.
She had me laughing in minutes. There was no room for poison, she talked it all out of me. Bombarded me with unrestrained giddiness. At one point her father whispered in Spanish for her to give me some space. “It’s OK,” I said, so she ignored him, and we carried on teasing and shouting and missing waves.
“Alright, alright,” I said, catching Mica’s patient look, and realizing I could be more to her than someone to chat with. “Let’s get serious. Paddle for this one.” But then we giggled again and missed that one too.
A sheet of rain swept across the water and covered us in tropical sized drops, hitting the sea and springing back up. “We’re getting all wet, Cassie!” I shouted, paddling over. “Look, the rain is starting to come up from below.”
“What does that mean?” she shouted.
“Gravity is broken!” We laughed and licked fresh water from our lips.
Then she said suddenly, “You’re fun.” I glanced over at her thirteen-year-old sincerity. She stared solemnly out to sea. “I needed to laugh today.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I did too. It’s been a hard week, hasn’t it?”
That’s all I needed to say. Hard week. No details, no validation, no poison, no regrets.
“Yeah,” she sighed. “My chicken died. He was like my best friend. I’ve been crying all week. I’d still be crying now, but I ran out of tears, and you know,” she splashed her hands, “it’s salt water anyways.” She paused, “I know it’s weird that a chicken can be your best friend.”
“No,” I said, grateful to make someone feel better rather than worse. “If it’s something that brought you joy every day, then you’re gonna be sad when it’s gone.”
The rain came in harder, turning the setting sun pink and fuzzy, and dispersing the street light through the air. Cassie and Mica said goodbye and caught their last waves in. One other surfer was left, further in than where I sat waiting for the bigger waves that never came. Still I stayed, letting the rain pelt me, freeze me, and run down my face, where I slurped it into my mouth. It grew darker and I grew colder, but I didn’t move.
‘Wash my sins away.’ I thought, blinking at the dark horizon.
What is repentance? Feeling the effects of your actions. Enough at least to grow, to change, to do better.
A hoot from the other surfer broke my vigil. His shadow waved me in closer, to where I could actually catch a wave. I set myself free, and joined him for some last giddy night rides, gliding on blue-black water through relentlessly pelting rain. Then he shouted, “I’m going in! The water at the shore is brown.”
“OK,” I nodded, and followed him on the next wave.
It was Jorge. I’d met him in the parking lot a few weeks before. All boisterous belly and smiling stoke, with his surf booties and gloves. He invited me for pizza. I declined but he said he goes every day after surfing, and I made a promise to myself to join him one night.
Then I phoned in a take-out order to my favorite restaurant before changing out of my surf suit. As I rounded the corner by the closed-up food trucks, I thought about texting Kate, to see if I could just drop in. I imagined eating my food in her living room, surrounded by her sassy family. But then, they were probably all tucked in. I might be imposing. I was insecure. I wasn’t sure yet if she was my people.
I parked down the block and walked to the restaurant, stood at the counter and waited for a waiter. Across the dining room I caught sight of platinum blonde dreadlocks. Kate and her family laughing at a table. But I couldn’t go in to say hi. COVID of course. I smiled at the sight of them, out late with their sassy kids, swatting and teasing each other.
The waiter walked up and I told her my name. She checked with the kitchen and came back. “We will call your phone when it is ready.” So I walked down the block, through murky puddles gathered in uneven sidewalk, and took the time to move my car a little closer. Just on time to pick up my order, and to run into a family of blond dreadlocks leaving the restaurant.
Kate saw me and smiled. Asked how I was doing. Asked about my drama. I practiced. “I hurt someone, I am learning from it.” No details, no validation, no poison.
“Do you want to come over? Eat your food at our house?” she asked. “Oh, wait,” she looked at her family gathered by the truck, “let me text you…sometimes we go on a spontaneous adventure. We had a pitcher of margaritas, so you never know,” she grinned.
“I’ll head home tonight,” I said, smiling. “I thought about texting as I drove by, but I wasn’t sure…”
“Oh yeah! Anytime. We’re usually there, just drop in!”
Then we said goodnight, and I walked to my car smiling.