All this happened both forever ago and about a half a second since, in a span of around thirty seconds. It seems like an unapproachable distance of separation though, since then, that last year of school I thought I wouldn’t miss or think about now. Things were still fresh, a little more promising, a little less cruel. Brewing summer, ocean in abundance. I still remember the classroom windows and their view, how I would sit on the rocky table with its uneven legs and glare outside – the water view, the birds colliding with the sun, the sun swathed in a bright blue sky. Good weather reminds me of these memories. How one time, near graduation and on the cliff approach of a hot, thick, buzzing summer, school ended for the day and I walked down the hill and into the mid-afternoon, my only thought being that I needed to go for a swim. I called you, and you were hesitant, but with stupid persistence I managed to convince you to join. So I got on the bus headed your way, towards home, because there was this little beach tucked behind this neighborhood on the way, and I planned to meet you there. It’s special because rarely anyone goes there, and tourists hardly know anything about it, so it was all to ourselves (excluding the straying man or two).
But I accidentally got off the bus early–this bus full of people and salt and sunscreen–I think I can still smell the sun clinging on to all their bodies (slapped pink) and freckled faces (slapped red), all of us pressed together in this stuffy, contained space: as the bus moved bravely forward into this heat; my eyes snatching bits of the shore view from those windows; with the lazy, sunny conversation getting drowned underneath the sound of an engine… so like I said, I got off this bus early, around a few stops early. I can’t remember if I realized this before or after I got off, if I wanted to save face or not. I thought I should just keep walking until I eventually get to the neighborhood, as the bus rolled past with all its passengers of flight and fury – and I was about a quarter of the way there when I saw this woman walking towards me from a stop just ahead. An older woman, who was also on the same bus as me, and was smiling without her teeth. I can’t remember well, but she was so kind and offered to hold all my things on the bus – or offered me a seat, or both. So she was smiling at me and when we finally reached each other, still walking and small-smiling, she said – probably meaning nothing of it and with joking, light provocation (lighter than air) –
“Guess we both got off at the wrong stop.” I smiled and amicably agreed. I guess we did.
You must understand something, because looking back on this now I am struck with happy grief, at the realization that all life has really been is me accidentally getting off at the wrong stop. Anyway, I reached the beach soon enough, with the first thing worth getting out of being my shoes and socks. I stripped down out of uniform – tugged off my school tie and trousers, tucking in all my things on sharp rocks or in my bag. I only went swimming in just my underwear and pressed white school shirt (in this moment I preferred half-hearted decency over everything) which was now limp and wilting from sweat, and no longer crisp. I remember squinting out at the horizon, flat, bright – blue – and there was this boat off in the distance that made me wonder and worry if they saw me and would stop to say hello.
While waiting for you I would lay in the water floating on my back (which I’m told is called The Starfish) and blink through stinging blurry eyes, spotting vague whispers of a cloud here and there. I would then get out of the water and sit in the warm sand, my knees tucked into my belly. This moment (a moment I know now to have special significance as it is something like a point of no return) spent waiting and accompanied only with that brutal sun, and that feeling of wet strands of hair clinging to my cheek – that feeling of a moment lasting forever…
You came eventually.
And we were the only ones on the beach for some long, special stretch of time – excluding a straying man or two.
But when I saw you walking down to meet me for the first time, I remember you were saying something like hello, you brought food for us to eat, and you were sorry for taking so long. I can’t really remember the rest of the conversation after that. All I remember for certain – with happy, wistful conviction and with joking, light provocation (lighter than air), is that you got off at the right stop.