As children our waiting depends on how long it takes Mom and Dad to finish what they’re doing and pay attention to our needs. It takes hold of us, like a fever, and we resort to nudging them, whining, even sobbing, if we are made to wait longer than we expected. During the school year, I waited all semester for the summer. In Los Angeles that meant it was hot enough to go swimming in the ocean. When I lived in Hollywood, I rode two buses, to get to Santa Monica. The second bus dropped me off on Ocean Avenue, above Santa Monica Beach. I ran down the ramp that connects to Pacific Coast Highway, and headed north to Sorrento Beach, another long block away, and when I got there I stumbled in the sand in my tennis shoes trying to run, and find the place where my schoolmates clustered, in a caravan of towels, beach chairs, radios, and brown bag lunches. I couldn’t just run to the ocean, I had to sit and talk and have something cold to drink, and then I made myself wait, until I couldn’t stand it any longer, and then I ran down to the shore, and embraced the waves, tumbling inside their grasp until I lost my breath, and floated into abandonment.
After I moved to New Mexico, I stopped thinking about the ocean, I had to remove the memories from my thoughts, and so I could continue to experience this spark of the world. The dry sage ocean of pink soil, and radiant blue sky that pinches your eyes when you’re driving, the sunlight, and the warmth of a desert night and the white snow on pink adobe. It has postcard perfection, even now, with fallen leaves spread like trash everywhere, and the trees almost naked, and the dead plants in the garden. I try not to think of the ocean, the look of the sea from watery suntanned eye lids, or from the bluff at Del Mar, or the splashing of waves around my shoulders as I sink beneath the surface.
I waited, like I did as a teenager, for that summer to come, so I could return to the sea.
Last week, I stood at the water’s edge in Del Mar, it was like summer without all the kids playing ball and screaming, hey dude what’s up, and the running of the dogs, and lifeguards thrashing the beach in their jeeps shouting, , no swimming, no dogs off the leashes, no glassware, and no surfing. They were missing, so as the caravan of beach runners, and surfers. In fact, I was only one swimming, on that first day at the beach. Before I went into the water, I reclined on a big black boulder, and faced the sea, and let my eyes wander amongst the scenes of the beach on a Tuesday afternoon. In front of me was an older man with graying hair, in a wal-mart beach chair reading. He must be retired, he looked perfected adapt to his spot about five feet from the shoreline. I thought about that Dennis Hopper commercial, about retirement, and how I still cannot come to grips with retirement, and spending my days on park benches or in cafes watching younger men and women live.
There was one swimmer, on a bogey board, he was far out, and floating along, and I wished I’d brought mine with me, but it was in SC’s van, and the last time I used it was when I lived in Solana Beach. I also wished I had a new bathing suit, because the one I was wearing was ripped, and the neck straps were tied together in a knot so I could swim without losing my top. The sun baked my body, and I let it without abatement, without shading my limbs, or wearing a hat, just enough sunscreen to keep the rays from trotting over to my skin, and I closed my eyes and I opened them, and this is when the waiting business suddenly felt so important, so much so that I began to think about waiting as an aphrodisiac or something like a good cocktail that you have to make last for sometimes, years, while you wait for that moment that makes you feel immortal, and childlike, and senses sharpened as an animal.
I felt the beach flies, and the tang of salt water on my lips, and the when the seagulls swarmed above the water’s surface, like so many beads of a necklace, I thought, that this is about the most beautiful day I could have, and it’s all because I WAITED, I didn’t give up on the ocean, or my place in it, or believing that I would have my day in the sand, under a faded denim blue sky, with cotton ball clouds floating above me. I baked until the sweat drenched my pours, and then I raised myself up, and walked slowly to the edge of the water, the flat surface made tiny breaks not enough to shatter my body warmth and I felt the first sting of the water on my feet, and then my knees, and then I submerged, and found that the best way to celebrate this day was to keep flopping backward on top of each wave as it crashed, and I did this for a dozen rounds, until I felt silly and weak, and dented with the surf, and I found that waiting thing again, meant something that I should write about because all of us are waiting for the election, and the economy to recover, and our real estate to be worth something again, we are all waiting for this big change so we can feel secure and optimistic about the future. There is something useful about waiting, something predisposed, that gives us the support and substance we need, so when the waiting is over, and we are all flush with success again, it will feel like the first time, it will overwhelm with us with power and joy, like the ocean.
When I left, I had enough jubilation bouncing through my blood to take the risk of driving by Maurice’s home, the one he left three years ago, when he died under his favorite orange tree.