Forgive me, 2.5 readers, for I have sinned. It has been two months since my last entry. I have no excuses other than I had a very hectic summer despite valiant efforts to make it relaxing. Today was a day I was really looking forward to because it was A DAY OFF. And on this most sacred day, I had promised Anna to take her to the beach. Mother Nature came through with pristine weather. So I joined a couple thousand of my fellow New Jerseyians for some fun in the sun.
What happened wasn’t how I had envisioned our day at the beach. While in my office working away, I daydreamed about a lazy day at Sandy Hook, making sand castles with Anna, flipping through a New Yorker dated from July, sipping some saccharine-sweet iced tea.
Instead, we lasted about a half hour on the beach. For Anna, getting off Sandy Hook was like the rush out of Saigon.
She was having a great time playing in the waves and what was a pretty strong current. You can find muscle and attitude anywhere in New Jersey and the Jersey Shore is no exception. This current wasn’t rude, but it certainly didn’t mind taking swipes at the kids. Anna was holding a yellow plastic fish and an orange plastic seahorse, one in each hand. A wave knocked her on her feet, she went under water, I grabbed her, and she surfaced in time to see the same wave that had knocked her down snatch her yellow fish toy and swallow it. She was stunned.
I counted 20 minutes of screaming into the sand, everything from the demanding: “FISHY, GET BACK HERE NOW!” to the plaintive: “Fishy, where ARE you?” to the declarative: “I am NEVER coming to the beach again!”
I wanted to take her back into the water to teach her that the ocean wasn’t scary while also rinsing off the sand glued to me. She cried and said I couldn’t go into the ocean “because the ocean will take you away.”
This was Anna’s first lesson about the forces of Nature. That lesson also carried subtext: life isn’t fair.
Exhausted from her tantrum, Anna slept as we drove away. I caved to her demands to leave because I liked the idea of beating Friday rush hour traffic. Her eyes were closed even while I could still see the beach in my rearview mirror. While driving away from the frisky ocean, I thought about this woman I had briefly known. We met earlier this summer on a project. I did not know her very well other than she had cancer and kids. Earlier this week, I learned she had died, not only leaving two kids without a mother, but a husband without a wife. Three months after meeting this woman, her life had been snuffed out.
Locked in a drawer somewhere is a piece of paper that states when my number is up, please dump or sprinkle my ashes into the ocean. I never liked the concept of cemeteries or the concept of burial. Even in death, burial is too stationary. I need to keep moving and seeing the world. The ocean’s current will be my plane ticket in the afterlife.
I thought about Anna’s reaction to the ocean, and the two kids on the Upper West Side who are now living without a mother, and I also thought about the strength of that current, how the foam circled Anna, how the water brought her down and then was suddenly gone as quickly as it had hit. I couldn’t help but wonder, would she remember this day? When she’s 19 and backpacking across Europe or 43 and vacationing by a beach (assuming she’s willing to go back), would she remember being four years old, crying on the Jersey Shore? Would she remember how a couple of girls nearby heard her crying, went into the water to look for her fish, didn’t find it and gave her a big rock instead? Would she remember her fear of the ocean? Her fear of the sudden?
All evening, Anna kept saying “A lot of people lose things in the ocean.” “Yes,” I told her. “Pirates, especially.” In the car, I said she should be happy that the ocean came and took the fishy because the ocean was taking the fish back to the sea with its friends. This was a homecoming, I explained.
Her face lit up. She loved the idea that her toy would become “a real fish” and play with his friends in the ocean, the kinds of friends she has seen at the Brooklyn Aquarium. She was so moved by this idea, she claimed that should she ever go to the beach again, she would throw her plastic seahorse and plastic turtle into the ocean so they could become real and join their buddies.
I would love to give Anna the opportunity to do this, to send something into the sea to say goodbye and wish it well. Summer will be over soon, but there are a few weeks of warm beach weather left, enough to squeeze in another trip to Sandy Hook before the leaves turn the colors of the sun. I know I will always remember this day. And I wonder, when the time comes for Anna to say goodbye to me, will she remember being four and losing her beach toy in the Atlantic, and will she let the ocean take her mother home?
[zdvideo width="300" height="242" theme="simple 2"]https://katrinawoznicki.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/deep_blue_sea.flv[/zdvideo]