Looking for Unbroken Shells

“It’s your life, Joseph,” she said.  “You shouldn’t worry about people who would just hold you back.  There’s a lot of world out there.”

“A lot of world that’s no fun when you’re alone,” I replied.  “If I had a choice, I’d choose the same old with someone I know and love rather than go off into the unknown with no one to share it with.”

“You won’t be alone,” she said.  “There’ll be plenty of people there with you.”

“Still,” I said, “it won’t be the same.”

The drive was a bit longer than expected with traffic, as the commute hour was just starting.  Now, California might be known for its beaches, but Ocean Beach in San Francisco is very different from the California beaches you see on TV with boardwalks, bikini girls and lots of sun.  The part of San Francisco that faces the ocean is one long, mostly straight line of sand.  It has its fair share of sand dunes, built up by the winds that endlessly blow across it.  It’s also regularly covered by the fog we graciously call a ‘marine layer,’ even while downtown is bright and sunny.  A ‘bathing suit’ at Ocean Beach is often a full-body insulated wetsuit, and you’ll more often see people walking the shore in jeans and hoodies than anything else.  Welcome to San Francisco.

This February afternoon was no different.  The fog was in full effect, and it was breezy enough to be blowing Sera’s hair across her face.  That was okay.  She had a big leather jacket to wear which looked a bit big for her, but that she also looked comfy in, and I had my own bulky sports jacket.  We were ready, except for one thing.

When we stopped, she leaned over and began to take off her shoes she had.  I looked at her like she was crazy.  “Do you want to catch pneumonia?  It’s cold out there!  And I’d bet it’s a little wet, too.”

“You pussy,” she said, laughing at me.  “Take your shoes off, and feel the sand and ocean.”

“And the fog, and the wind…” I said.

“Trust me,” she told me.  “If the wet sand gets to be too much, go stand with your feet deep in the dry sand.  It’ll still be warm even in this weather and it’ll heat you back up.  I do this all the time.”

I shrugged, and started to pull my shoes and socks off.  She beat me to it and ran off to the beach first, leaving her shoes in my car.

She took me across the dunes to where she used to look for shells when she was a kid.  It turns out, the shells she would look for were sand dollars.  When the tide would go out, one could walk along the beach and see the bleached shells that were left behind standing out against the dark, wet sand.

There was just enough of a breeze across the beach to keep things chilly, blowing the grass in the sand dunes along the edge of the city streets.  The wind coming in from the shore blew back the noise of the cars and people and everything else that we came from.  The constant sound of the waves crashing drowned it all out.  All we heard was the roar of the seas, the occasional dog barking, and each other.

She led me on a walking chase up and down the beach, trying to avoid the waves as she looked for the shells peeking through the sand as the waves receded.  I took more to looking for shells left in the dry sand upbeach.  As we walked, she told me about spending time with her mother looking for a perfect shell when she would go up there.  It was not an easy thing to do.  Many shells were broken by the hard surf of the Pacific pushing them ashore, and others by birds to get at the meals inside of them.  She resolved to find two perfect shells this day; one for me, one for her.

That led to a couple of hours prancing along the shore, and walking up and down the beach between joggers and exercising dogs, waves, and seagulls who might have though we were competing with them for whatever food they could find on the beach.  We didn’t talk so much as laugh, and make fun of each other for awkwardly running from the waves at the last minute as we hunted for the shells under the receding waters.