On the beach, playing in the waves, lying in the sun, feeling the sand scratching under my swimsuit, I’m fourteen again. Every year, my parents rented a house in the little town of Brigantine on the New Jersey for a week, sometimes two. It was the highlight of our summer. We spent long days on the beach, returning to that year’s little house for lunch, then back to the water for the afternoon.
Mom actually swam in the ocean, beyond the breakers, back and forth in front of the family blanket. Dad, usually a reserved man, played in the waves like a kid, his nose smeared with zinc oxide—a necessary embarrassment–then buried the same nose in a book under the rented beach umbrella while Mom’s eyes moved from children to book and back again three of us, calling us to the blanket for fresh applications of Coppertone on our bare backs and shoulders and the white zinc oxide on my little brother’s protruding ears that so easily burned to a crisp. That was in the innocent days when nobody knew the sun was the enemy of small pale bodies. Our backs and shoulders burned and peeled, the sign of a good day on the beach. When we weren’t in the water, my brothers and I built castles surrounded by moats, filled the moats with pails of water, then watched the waves demolish our creations—or demolished each others as siblings do.
Later, when I’d outgrown the sand castles—and before I’d grown back into them—I lay on my towel, away from the rest of the family, imagining, hoping, that every passing boy was gazing at me longingly; or I walked along the beach, alone, alternating between adolescent fantasies and awe at the vastness of the ocean.
In New Jersey, the shore was lined by dunes and low-lying vegetation; here by palm trees. That was the chilly Atlantic Ocean, this is the warm Pacific. But the rhythmic sound of waves; the salty taste and burning eyes when one catches you by surprise; the tug of the undertow; the stickiness of ocean-wet skin drying in the sun; the feeling that beyond the undulating horizon are mysterious places where other people are gazing out at their horizon–these are the same.
We’re going to stay here in Bucerias another couple of days. Tomorrow, Janet and Ron have arranged for us to go on a whale-watching mission where we may see whales but will almost certainly see blue-footed boobies.