My first time visiting the beach in two-thousand and ten is a blizzard. I arrive late in the day. It is early May. The sun is already sinking into the ocean, but I still need to taste salt and bathe in its reflective face. I eat the stickiness and sand as if it is my last meal.
I never thought I would be here to let my sister, Heather, sink into the ocean sand, to be eaten by its grabbing hands. But I am. I do. I drove alone because I needed just my thoughts, the road, and three hundred miles. My family is meeting me here; when they arrive, we will gather as if Heather is coming in the right behind us, driving her red Jeep, but I know if it was so, I’d be in the passenger seat.
We will have to let her dig, and the next day before the sun leaves, I watch my sister’s mother drop her tongue ring into the disappearing clams while we rest at the edge of forever. I see how eager she is to be free, to be a marble of pink and blue sinking. She will be anything without memory. I think she must have known. We are cursed, though, with our own memories.
The week at the beach is like the unspoken and insufficient time allotted for mourning. It is sympathy and then a cold withdrawal and a sliding lock. I am reluctant to leave on Thursday morning. Something feels unfinished. I don’t know what, whatever this feeling is or where it comes, or if it will ever be finished.
I get in my car and wait for an answer for anything and end up on the beach. It is the first and only time this year that I’ll stagger to the edge of what is left. All the other days, I will drown out with whiskey and anything that produces numbing. At the edge, I see my sister’s fingers have become foam. They are rainbows and gold covering pieces of broken things. There are never any good seashells on this side of town. I think the merchants must come and scavenge before dawn, maybe at low tide. It makes me not want to look anymore because I know I have figured out its logic, but she rushes to my ankles anyway and makes me see. I am immersed, and I don’t want it. I become angry for the first time since my crying subsided.
I am angry at the intrusions and movement inside of me, the dismantling—everything and everyone. People are either avoidant and awkward or overly sympathetic and flailing. They are stiff and consoling only for as long as they can stand me, and then they drown me with invalidations to counteract any healing. I am envious of their escapes, them being allowed to turn away, and their ability to do so while I stay. I know it is mine to face and dine alone. I prefer silence instead of shame.
The feelings change; they become cycles, unlike my past experiences with death. They are frantic for an end that can’t come. I don’t know why I have to say good-bye on this day, to the shoreline as if I’ll never come back again. Maybe I want to keep it as a prayer, to sing hymns standing in my wet boots and cold air as if they are a sweater.
It is silent except for the wind and waves. Heather has left, and I have to leave too. I know. I don’t know how, so I guess at it. I take a squishy step and grimace. It is quicksand, and as the soles of my shoes disappear, a seashell the size of my hand washes to the surface. I see and wiggle my feet. I fall into the water; I claw to dig it up before the ocean’s tongue takes it back. It is whole and without blemishes, curved with brown and salmon ridges, and time for me to return home, so I leave with the shell. It stays for eight years inside my Kia.
At some point it becomes scribbled with pencil marks, a mouse turns it into a personal lavatory, before I know it will need to dig too and that it will decide when. I know that there is nothing more to do but accept the duality in everything and that it all becomes easy until it can’t anymore. I know best that the ebb and flow of grief does not define me even when it uses my voice to speak.