The sky is fading from black to grey when I quietly open the door and slip outside into the chilly morning. The air, sharp with the tang of the sea, comes rushing up my nostrils, stinging them with its salty fragrance. I breathe in deeply, sucking after the cool air like water. It is deep and fresh and buoyant, soaked in memories of cool sands, white mists and breaking waves.
I start down the path to the beach, the crash and slap of the waves becoming louder as I draw near. Just before rounding the bend, I pause, savoring the anticipation. I had seen what lay beyond the corner countless times, and yet I am always surprised at what I see. The sea is fluid, shifting, volatile; it wears innumerable moods from day to day, hour to hour, first gray, then gold, then deep, deep blue. It hides itself in banks of mist, breaks sunlight like shattered glass, and swallows up the sky in its rolling arms. It is by turns strong, gentle, awful, gorgeous...the spectrum of human emotion drowns itself in those glimmering depths.
I close my eyes, remembering the thousand moods I had yet seen, waiting to see what it would be that morning, and turn the corner.
Mist is rising in soft banks of cloud, delicately molding the sky in its downy curves. The sea murmurs and sighs as it gently brushes the shore with its grey fingers before slipping back under itself. The sun is hidden beneath the mist, but I know it will rise soon, faint and pale through the grey clouds.
I step out into the chilly sand, feeling it first crumble beneath my toes, then beginning to stick as I draw near the shore. I tentatively touch one toe to the water and immediately draw it back; it is burning with cold. I turn my steps further up on the drier sand and walk, looking out over the sea, breathing the salty air, feeling the chilly breeze raise goosebumps all along my arms. It is so peaceful, so incredibly still. For a few precious moments, no one is awake in the entire world but myself and the sea.
I turn my gaze back to the beach ahead of me and stop short. A girl is standing by the edge of the water not 10 feet from me.
Some of the intense pleasure that had carried me along the beach that morning slips to the ground and shatters. Another human presence at this hour is horribly ordinary, a sharp jerk back into reality. I can’t bring myself to pass her; I want to be alone, to lose myself in the fog and sea, to not be aware of anything else…
Praying she won’t turn around, I slowly start to inch my way back the way I had come. After twenty agonizing feet, I stop and sag in relief. This is far enough; I can walk away without worrying about being seen now. And yet - I find myself looking back one last time.
The sun has begun to rise from behind the distant waves, softly breaking through the melting clouds. It traces a golden finger over the curve of her cheek and the line of her jaw, blurring it into the brightening waves behind her. She gazes out over the sea, her eyes alight with a feeling that is foreign to me and yet intimately familiar…
I realize then that she is looking at the sunrise how I would look at it.
The muted beauty of the sun shining through the fog, the soft rolling of the waves, the swish and slap of the sea...it resonates with her in a way that is almost painful. The vastness of it escapes her; she can only stand and look and try to capture the tiniest bit of it in her mind.
I watch the sun rise, the world slowly turning into a new day, and the line of light that plays over her face. She is as much a part of this moment as the waves or the sand or the sky. She has let herself dissolve into this wild beauty, just as I am falling into it beside her.
She is unaware I am watching with her, yet I feel that if I were to draw near, she would not back away.
The waves roll on, the sun rises higher, and time stretches out, silent and unbroken…
Suddenly the girl turns her head, almost as if she is listening for something. I listen too, and hear a faint voice calling from further down the beach. The girl hesitates a moment, glancing one last time over the water, and then turns away.
A part of me almost wants to run after, tell her to wait. I don’t know her, don’t even know her name, but I desperately want to. There is something in her I have noticed in anyone else; she loves the world the way I do.
But it is too late - she has vanished into the rising mist. I sigh and start to walk back up the bluff. At least there is tomorrow. There is always tomorrow.
Late that evening, I am standing in our hallway, crowded with suitcases, bags, boxes and who knows what else. I feel completely empty, drained of all emotion. We only just arrived, and we are leaving. It was only a few hours ago that we learned Grandpa is very sick. He might be dying.
The rest of the day seems like a bad dream; I have a vague impression of the heavy mood that settled over the house, my mom’s swollen eyes, piles of clothes and dishes and sheets and towel piled in profusion, adding to the sense of chaos and disorder. I don’t have time to think, I don’t want to think. I don’t want to let myself dwell on what might happen.
At last everything has been packed into the car we had just unloaded, and my mom sends me back for a last sweep of the house. I run through the empty rooms, hardly seeing what I’m looking at. My mind is filled with images of my grandpa - is he alright? Will I see him again? Will we be too late?
Something chokes inside me and I hastily brush away the tears threatening to overwhelm me. Stop it, you’re not a little kid. Get up the stairs and finish checking the house. I walk into my room and quickly look around. Nothing there of course. I’m about to head out again when a thought strikes me. Despite my fear, my grief, my uncertainty, I want to see the ocean one last time.
I cross over to the window and throw back the curtains. Moonlight pours into my empty room, flooding it with pale light. I lean my head against the window frame and gaze out across the sea.
It ripples through the dark, becoming one with the inky depths of the sky. Stars shiver in its rolling waves, and the moon is broken in quivering fragments on its undulating surface. It is so deep, so dark, so incredibly beautiful. I let the tension and fear of the day drift out and dissolve into those cool waters…
I suddenly realize that if I could have one person with me right now, it would be the girl I saw this morning. I don’t why, but I feel somehow she would understand. She would know when to speak, when to be silent. When to comfort, when to sympathize. And now I will never know her. I was a coward this morning, and I will never see her again.
I suddenly jerk upright. The girl - the one I saw this morning - is walking along the beach at this very moment. I glance at my watch. I might be able to make it, might to at least be able to say something to her if I hurry-
I shake myself. No, this is crazy. Am I really so selfish to put what I want before my family? Every moment is precious - I would never forgive myself if we arrived one moment too late. I need to leave - I have already spent too long here.
Yet even as I protest, all I can think of is the way she looked out over the sea this morning.
How does fate decide where to place people? How does it determine the complex interweaving and overlapping of human lives? How does it determine who will meet and who will never meet? Fate placed a singular opportunity into my hand and I threw it away. There was a chance I might have met someone who breathed in the same rhythm, saw with the same eyes...now it is too late.
Grief has overturned my life and I can no longer claim it as my own. My own desires are no longer what govern me; I have other obligations.
The moon on the sea blurs before my eyes - does she see it the same way now?
I turn and walk out of the room.