By Sarah Levine
I was six years old the first time I remember going to the beach. I wore the two-piece bathing suit with pink and red butterflies, the one that was just a tad snug around my waist. Dad spent all day in the ocean with me, picking me up when the waves were too big for me to jump over. We feasted on ice cream from a cooler on a man’s back. At the end of the day, I dipped my feet into the ocean until my toes resembled raisins.
The beach became the shore when I was fourteen years of age. Only the out-of-towners said they were going to the beach. The regulars called it the shore. My parents purchased a new construction two blocks from the ocean, and I had my own room with a huge bay window and trundle bed so my friends could come spend the weekend. We hit it off with the folks on our block, settling into a group of families that sat on the beach and barbecued together at night.
That summer, I smoked pot for the first time under the boardwalk with the neighbor’s daughter. We passed the marijuana back and forth like it was candy and alternated between smoking and grabbing handfuls of the popcorn she had shoplifted from the local convenience store. My dad smelled the drugs on my clothing the minute I walked into the house. I was grounded for the rest of the summer.
He promised me a twenty-sixth birthday I would never forget, a weekend down the shore with my family and some of our closest friends. He’d said that everyone celebrates milestone birthdays, but that we should make twenty-six special in its own right. We spent the daylight hours alternating between sun-tanning on our towels and splashing around in the ocean.
After cooking my favorite roasted chicken and cornbread stuffing for myself and my parents, he led me onto the boardwalk for a stroll. I stopped in my tracks when I saw the tea light candles lit up in a heart formation where the boards met the beach. He got down on one knee and tried to steady his shaking body in the sand. As he asked me to spend the rest of my life with him, he opened a small black box to reveal the cushion-cut diamond I’d been hinting at for months.
Thirty-two years old and the beach became my escape. The day I found out, I went straight from the doctor’s office to the beach, a two-hour drive that seemed far longer. I couldn’t bear the thought of telling him, of breaking his heart the way I always feared he might break mine. We’d already picked out the color for the nursery, a pistachio green that would be perfect for either gender. I wondered if the paint was returnable.
The doctor had said the pain would subside within a week, but I wasn’t sure he had a clue what he was talking about. The pain would never go away. The ocean breeze was the closest thing I could find to comfort. I needed a day, maybe two or three. There was no easy way to tell him. Bursts of water fell from the sky, and I imagined they were God’s tears, mourning the loss of the family we could have been. It made me feel better to know I wasn’t hurting alone. I sat on the edge of the water, paying no mind to my wet, sandy shorts, and cried.