It is really hot. But only in the sense that I’m laying in the hot sun. It’s actually only in the upper 70s (I love California) and the breeze is cool once I raise myself to a seated position. The sand has caked to the Banana Boat sunscreen on my legs, and I wipe a bead of sweat off of the back of my neck. There are a lot more sailboats out today than normal, all generally the same size, though some look smaller the farther away they are. A helicopter whirs overhead as a middle-aged man walks by calling “soda soda, mango mango mango” as he tries to sell his armload of products to the families filling up the beach with towels, umbrellas, tents, and moats dug from the sand. I crack open the book I brought, one that’s pages are worn from the countless times I’ve reread it. I can practically recite it’s pages, and yet I always find solace in it’s words. The story drowns out the children laughing and splashing in the water and their parents yelling at them not to swim too far out beyond the breaking waves.
After a few chapters I look up from my book in time to see a little redheaded girl, maybe 3 or 4, running towards me. She stops abruptly, maybe realizing I’m not who she thought I was, and then turns 360 degrees, scanning the beach. Another 360 degrees. She’s all alone. I see her face start to wrinkle and she starts flapping her hands as tears begin to roll down her face. She runs a few feet away from me and screams, “Mommy!”
A woman appears from behind me, walking briskly towards the little girl. “Is this your child?” she asks, in a tone that implies I’m some sort of monster for not helping the little girl first. The woman attempts to take the hand of the girl, but she yanks her hand away, screaming. I silently cheer on the child for not talking to strangers, but then wonder if it’s more to do with the girl’s terror of not knowing where her mother is rather than remembering the childhood cardinal rule. The woman suddenly points further down the beach to another woman holding her arms out, and the child takes off for her, collapsing into her body with uncontrolled sobs. I see the woman murmuring in the child’s ear and she hauls her towards the large umbrella set up on the other side of the lifeguard stand. I join the rest of the surrounding families and lean back to my previous relaxed position, exhaling now that the excitement is over.
A couple of young women have planted themselves a few feet from me, spraying tanning oil on their legs and feet. I wonder if they’re my age and if they’re experiencing the same stress that tends to paralyze me when I think about how little I’ve accomplished in the four months I’ve been here. I wonder if, like me, they decided to come to the beach to relax and remember why they decided to move across the country and start a new life here.
That’s the reason I chose this particular spot on the beach. I come here often, right next to the lifeguard stand that parallels one of the walking bridges that crosses the Pacific Coast Highway. I’m sure I could choose a better spot, somewhere that isn’t as crowded, where parking isn’t such a hassle. But there is something about this particular spot, where the sun sets over the mountains on my right, the Ferris Wheel turns endlessly on the pier on my left, and the cars ebb and flow on the highway behind me that I can’t give it up. It never ceases to amaze me; each person on that pier has friends, family, hopes, dreams, a past. I notice every plane that ascends over the water, and imagine the tired businessmen on their way home after conferences, families on their way home from walking this very pier on their summer vacation. I wonder where the cars on the freeway are coming from, and where they’re going to, and it often causes me to shiver as I think of how many lives are flying by, unnoticed. I gaze out across the water, the sun dipping towards the hills of Malibu, and I am struck with how small I feel. All I can see for miles is water met with sky, and I think about the vastness of the ocean beyond my visibility. It scares me a little to think of how much life is undiscovered in the huge percentage of water our planet contains, yet still beautiful and miraculous to know that I am just one of the billions and billions of living beings in this world.
The sun is getting dangerously close to hiding behind the mountains, so I pack up, chilled by the fading light and the lingering breeze. As I tuck my book back into my canvas messenger bag I am suddenly mesmerized by the waves crashing to shore. I don’t know that I’ve ever really looked at how the white water of the breaking wave seems to trip and stumble over itself before resolving back into a smooth surface skimming the sand. It’s as if the water has to compete with itself every few seconds, trying to climb over itself as it rushes to the shore. It somehow brings me peace; even a simple element of nature has obstacles in its way, and, just like me, one of those obstacles is itself.