When I was growing up, before I had a job,
before I could drive, I used to keep my surfboard in my bedroom.
It would have made more sense to keep it in the garage, sure,
but I liked it with all my other things: my Shamrock hat and my hamster,
my broken lava lamp and mis-matched coasters.
It was a longboard, fiberglass, white with two red stripes on it.
I let someone borrow it the summer I went away to college
and haven’t heard from her since. I’ve thought about messaging her
to ask whatever happened to it, but I feel strange reaching out
only to ask about that. Plus, I think she’s married with a kid or two.
My friends would pick me up in their mom’s van before the sun came up –
we would share apples or bananas swiped from the bowl on the counter
and decide which beach to visit first.
There is a silence on the coast in the early morning,
something different than any other time of day.
The waves break in almost a whisper, the sound muted along the sand.
The gulls are quiet, rising and falling from the water without complaint.
By the time we arrive, the far horizon where the ocean meets the sky
is a light blue, cool and pale.
We stumble out, hoodies falling past bathing suites, and check the waves
the wind, the tide, the other surfers bundled against the dawn, watching.
Sometimes we we would check our favorite spots before deciding,
other times the waves would be so clean it didn’t matter.
Seminole on 18th, 34th near my Dad’s office, or 3rd street across from Krystals.
If the waves were really bad, everyone would head to the pier
because if there was really nothing to ride, we could all go to Pita Pit.
After watching, and waiting, and deciding, we would head back to the van
shed our stretched hoodies, grab the boards, and walk towards the water –
pausing to attach leashes and adjust bathing suites,
maybe try a stretch or two.
Boards under our arms, we would wade out into the swirling water
Sometimes green, sometimes gray, sometimes clear blue
I can can steel feel the sand giving way under my toes.
Once the water reached our waists we would leap onto our boards
our feet leaving the ground, not returning for hours.
That first paddle of the morning, in the still silence,
my hands dipping through the salty glass: that was perfection
that feeling of being a part of something that is whole
and complete without any kind of human touch necessary is breathtaking.
It’s what made us get up before dawn and go back, to skip lunch
and push through the hot and the cold, the mushy waves and the clean ones.
Bobbing on the oceans back like a cork on my fiberglass board,
water dripping from the ends of my hair and hands, plinking back
into the vast Atlantic and merging to join the tides again.
It’s the thing about growing up that I miss the most.
My Father ran track in Kansas during High School,
He told us how he was small, but fast, and he could out-run
any of the boys on the Football Team.
When my Brother didn’t get his growth spurt early enough he said:
“Don’t worry, it just takes a little time.”
My Father is the man that his Father wasn’t,
the kind of man who declined late meetings and weekend business trips
because they would take him away from us.
He is the kind of man who helped me struggle through Algebra,
and got as excited as I did when I brought home essays stamped with A’s.
A man who took time to teach me the difference between southern rock
and classic rock, drumming out the beats on his steering wheel,
and laughing that he couldn’t hit the high notes that Steve Perry could.
He wears a suit and tie to work, and with his sunglasses on
people have mistaken him for an agent about to bring in someone for questioning.
But I know better.
I’ve seen him carry my sleepy sister from the car and tuck her into bed
I’ve heard him checking the locks on the doors
after the house goes quiet at night.
I’ve been with him when he pauses to rescue earthworms
who have become trapped on the sidewalk during summer
and watched him return them to the cool ground.
He is the man I want my son to be, and the person I want my daughter to admire.
He knows I need him as much now as I did the day I was born,
and he doesn’t laugh at me for that.
My brother finally got his growth spurt, but the last time they raced,
I think my Dad let him win.
I have a story for you, a long and involved story with no particular point,
a story about a purple back-pack I bought the summer I visited New Jersey
and your brother hid under the board walk with a dollar in his hand
to slide between the slats, and we tried not to laugh when people stooped to reach for it.
I brought the new backpack home and started college – started trying to fit every book on
Kate Chopin into it, late night snacks, a water bottle when my sister insisted.
I lost keys and my Burt’s Bees in it again and again, finding them with effort.
Soon, a tear reached from one end of the front zipper to another-
My sister was binding books with wax thread, and I applied an orange strand
giving the bag the appearance of teeth.
I took it to the ocean and filled it with salt and sand
I took it to Mom’s and she filled it with soap and warm water.
The week before I was going to fly to Colorado to meet his mom, I left it in
the front seat of the car, parked on a side street, and headed to Art Walk without it.
I got halfway home that night before I realized: My wallet, my makeup bag, my notes
from class, my keys and the keys to the house I was petsitting for, well,
they had vanished.
We started a city wide search
We filed a report at the Station
We combed the surrounding bushes and trash cans, hoping, swearing it would never
happen again if just please, let me find it.
I returned home without my purple back pack.
The next day, we got a call from the Police, the Jacksonville Police, who were going to
file a missing persons report because a backpack and ID were found in a ditch, and they wanted to know if I was still alive.
My Mother said “She’s right here, I’m looking right at her.”
We met at the Gate gas station on I-95 and there, on the hood of the Sheriff’s Car,
I saw my trusty backpack. It was wet with dew, my keys and cards were missing, and most of my makeup was ruined. The orange wax thread was gone – the bag grinned a toothless smile at me as it passed from Officer to Owner.
I had my ID, I had more wax thread, the culprits spent $199 in gas and split town, flinging my bag from the passenger side as they fled west.
Someone found my beautiful bag in the ditch on a country road while Geocaching. They called to Police to file a missing persons report, and kindly placed it in their hands, where it found it’s way back into mine.
My mom washed my bag, not for the last time, and later that week I flew to the mountains. It only seemed fair that we should both take in the view.
Let’s swap war stories and see who’s is worse.
Let’s go hunting and figure out who balks
when it comes to the kill-shot.
We can make plans to spend the Holiday’s together
before you cancel, knowing that our parents
more in common than we do.
Or we could go to Gatlinburg, and I can spend
the entire time wondering why
I ever decided to leave the farm.
Let’s see who is happier at happy hour
or in the hallway of a barn with no lights,
watching the storm roll in over the mountains.
I’d rather polish tack with a stray dog and a barn cat
for company, with a horse who knows
when to look to the horizon and move
on to greener pasture.
I have a friend who faithfully reads my words, but tries to pin
down the person, place, incident they hint at –
Like a collector filling a case with insects
fragile wings frozen mid-flight.
He does not understand that these writings are mere
attempts at reaching, holding in my hand
that feeling before it slips through my fingers
and returns to sand, water, stardust.
I want to tell him that you cannot grasp those memories in one hand.
You cannot capture them and pin them down,
to spread their wings and lay them behind glass for collectors to admire.
I write about the last grains in the hourglass,
the feeling of water that drips between cupped fingers.
I want to tell him you cannot capture the things
that rightfully belong to the air
to the spaces in-between breaths.
There are stories that never make it to the front
page, and songs with melodies that never leave our minds.
There are smiles after the picture is taken,
there will be smiles that we miss.
I will keep putting them down on paper
and He will keep growing his collection under
the desk lamp, glasses perched on the end
of his nose, reflecting golden light.