Warmth, distance (rewrite)

I’m trying to whip this into some sort of read-a-loudable shape for the next spoken word at Muddy’s. (Which is Thursday, April 19 at 7 p.m.)

Suggestions welcome.

I’d armed Chelsea with a laminated street map that showed the bus routes. Her dad had quizzed her on various SF neighborhoods and which streets connected them. We ran through a series of “What if?” scenarios and made sure phone numbers were shared all around. She’d be on her own during the day and with family and friends at night. The safety net seemed to be in place, her ability to navigate the City, as assured as could be expected.

“Yes, Mom, yes, yes, I know Mom, yes, I’ll be fine, Mom,” she’d said, anxious to begin her adventure. I stopped giving her advice she’d heard a hundred times before and decided to treat her as if she knew what she was doing. With one big hug, I’d said goodbye – and took my tears to the car before she could see them.

Several blocks from our friends’ house, Ocean Beach beckoned, offering the combination of solitude and reassurance only the ocean can. The Pacific tumbled violently where deep met shallow. Waves surged up thick and solid, careening into longshore currents, barreling over like collapsing giants suddenly out of breath. The ocean’s brutality contrasted with the tranquility of the people dog-walking, jogging, tai chi-ing, kite-flying on the beach. I wandered between laughing children and ball-chasing mutts, feeling the back of my legs stretch with each step. I wondered if Chelsea had caught the bus yet, hoped she wouldn’t spend all her money in this initial shopping foray, hoped further that she would remain unmolested by the thousands of perverse and dangerous men roaming the streets of San Francisco – at least in my imagination.

I reached my designated turnaround point, planted my feet wide in the sand, marveled again at the warmth and perfect weather of the day, then fell over from the waist in an imitation of the waves in front of me. But instead of rolling forward, I simply hung, letting my back lengthen increment by painful increment. As I walked back, I saw two surfers in the distance, one with a yellow gun, the other with a green. Serious boards for serious surf. I walked faster, wanting to watch how they paddled out, curious to see what they would make of this tulmultuous ocean. For twenty minutes, they struggled, flung backwards and sucked sideways, but managing more progress than setback until they’d made it past the breakers. By this time, they were nothing more than specks in the great blue expanse.

I climbed the hill toward the Cliff House, worried about them, despite my impression that they knew what they were doing. What if a shark attacked or one of them cramped up or had a stroke or a huge set came in and broke one of the boards or leashes and washed the other away? Who would notice? Who would care? Who besides me even realized they were out there? I leaned on the sun-warmed cement railing waiting. I’d been watching them for 45 minutes, losing them now, then finding them again. I wanted to see them catch a wave, but nothing came. Finally, I released them from my view.

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