At last we chugged along throughAmerica’s vast inland sea. I was happy for the first time in, oh, maybe, eighteen to twenty years. Moreover, the countryside we drove through reminded me of the last time I was happy, the summer before Joy left, robbing me of my children.
She had just completed her PhD, but hadn’t gotten the fateful job offer yet. The kids were old enough to take on trips and enjoy it while we enjoyed them. We packed the minivan full of beach gear and crept up the sunburned arm of Cape Cod, stopping whenever we had the least excuse to play mini golf, lick ice cream cones, or frolic in the sand.
We oscillated between the bay side and the sea side of The Cape; domestic on one side and wild on the other; a corral of peace, plenty, and tranquility alternating with vast, stark terror.
On the bay side we caught crabs. We had only to lower a hotdog on a string and they would fasten themselves to be taken up and put into a bucket to be eaten. When we tired of crabs, we feasted on lobsters. When carcasses of lobsters lay torn and picked apart, we pried open the steely jaws of oysters, mussels, and clams. We filled out the corners of our bellies with salt potatoes and sweet corn. We stared for hours at sunsets, cuddling on a dockside bench as the lapping waves danced with excitement. We envied boats as they groaned, tied to their docks, smelling of diesel, salt, and fish. We biked alongside salt marshes, singing camp songs we will never forget.
On the ocean side, we stood watch at the sea for hours, pacing back and forth, measuring its reach. We played at its edges, built sandcastles to be wiped out by the next tide, and left footprints to be wiped out by the next wave. There was nothing here to eat but the sand between our teeth. Towering bluffs hemmed us in. The sun roasted our skin until we were as red as lobsters. We played at burying one another and felt the cool embrace of the grave while we were yet alive. The waves spoke of death and destruction. They wiped out anything we had to say and we had to shout to be heard by one another. The sea told us secrets of the immense void that stretched right in front of us, as far as the eye could see and as deep as a soul could sink. The rumbling waves, the countless grains of sand, and the immensity of it all; it all repeated the same essential point: you are nothing, you are nothing, you are nothing.
Bay side, versus sea side, I strangely prefer the sea, despite its horrors. It’s all I spoke of after we left; it’s all I pictured when I dreamed. Even now, driving throughKansas, a thousand miles away, I feel the sea’s presence and its threat. I’m on a tiny spit of land called happiness, embracing a liquid serenity on one side and bounded by dread on the other.