Picture it: Sicily, 1922…er, Vancouver, 2015.
It is a beautiful June afternoon, one of many such recent afternoons in a magnificent streak of good weather. The sun is shining high in the sky. A soft wind blows in from the west, helping to take the edge off the heat.
I stand at the edge of paradise and soak it all in.
The tide is out. Toddlers in water wings splash happily in shallow pools while older children dig holes and adorn sand castles with kelp and shells. Screaming teenagers dance around their friends, knee deep in the chilly water, gleefully threatening to push each other all the way in.
A Frisbee whizzes through the air, is caught via a spectacular dive. The catcher’s cry of triumph is muffled as he disappears momentarily under the rolling waves. Further up the beach, the rhythmic thunk, thunk, thunk of a volleyball being passed back and forth echoes by the concession.
And in between, a hundred glowing bodies lie sprawled out on blankets, mats, sarongs and towels, simply being there.
I kick off my flip flops and make my way to the heart of the beach. Warm sand spills between my toes with each step.
I stake my claim next to a large, weathered log, dropping my bag and sandals carelessly to one side. My towel balloons out like a sail as I go to lay it down. The breeze ruffles my hair.
I take a long, slow breath of salt air and exhale. I forget about my work day. Deadlines and office politics are not welcome here. I have come to be idle. I have come for some quality time with a place that asks nothing of me except that I flop down and breathe the air and soak up the sun and just get the fuck over anything else.
You got it, friend.
I strip down to my swimsuit, toss my shorts and tank into my bag. I take a big swig from my water bottle, stretch out on my oversized, fluffy towel, and close my eyes.
“…honestly, how much further do we need to go?”
“A bit more, at least. Come on, look at this gorgeous beach! Why don’t we walk all the way to the end?”
“You can’t be serious. There’s stuff in this sand. Seaweed and shells and god knows what else.”
“Baby, this place is amazing. We could walk to the end and have a picnic. Wouldn’t that be fun, Hannah?”
“Absolutely not. Hannah, come back over here and put your shoes on.”
“Let her run around a bit, babe. Isn’t that why we came here?”
“You brought us here. Okay, that’s it. This is far enough. Can we just take the damn picture and get out of here?”
I can’t handle it, I just can’t. I simply must get a look at this charming family. I prop myself up on an elbow, open one eye and squint in the direction of the voices.
There they are, halfway between my log and the water.
Happy Dad, grinning in every direction, has handed his camera over to an older, balding gentleman in an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt. Killjoy, a stunning woman sporting a golden tan too perfectly uniform to have been conceived anywhere other than the sand-free sanctuary of a salon, dutifully plasters the fakest of fake smiles on her face as she nervously shuffles her feet from side to side in case the beach gets any ideas about crawling up into her designer shoes.
Happy Dad calls Hannah away from her chosen activity of running around in circles with her arms stretched out like an airplane, and she lopes over to stand in front of him, breathless and giggling.
“The mountains! Can you get the mountains in there?” Happy Dad calls to Bald Hawaiian as he sets up the shot. Baldy gives the thumbs up. “All right! Let’s do this!” yells Happy Dad.
“Okay, pose, sweetheart! Give me a real good happy family holiday pose!” croons Bald Hawaiian to Hannah, and as the snort of laughter I’ve been holding in finally escapes me, I hear a simultaneous guffaw from the woman who’s set up camp at the other end of my log. We look over at each other. She gives an exaggerated shake of her head and I roll my eyes, and then we turn back to the spectacle.
Happy Dad races over to preview the photographic evidence of his latest cherished memory. “Perfect!” he roars, giving Bald Hawaiian and hearty thump on the back. “Just perfect! Look at this, honey!”
But Killjoy is already making a beeline for the safety of the paved walkway, pulling out her smartphone. “I hope I can get us dinner reservations somewhere decent. If that even exists in this city…” she mutters to no one in particular as she storms off.
Happy Dad watches her go. After a moment he pockets the camera and turns back to his mountains and the beach-that-could-have-been, and his ever-present smile is wistful. Then he looks affectionately at Hannah, who is obliviously spinning in circles, her cherubic face raised to the sky. “How about it, sweet pea? Wanna go pick up grandma and go for dinner?”
“Okay cutie, let’s go.”
I do not watch them leave. What started off as a caricature suddenly got very real and very sad.
I turn over and burrow my face into the softness of my towel, but more voices float overhead.
“OMG guys there is sand on my feet. Ew.”
“OMG there is sand in my butt too. What the hell?”
“This beach isn’t that great. I mean, it’s okay, I guess, but it can’t compete with, like, California or Hawaii beaches.”
“Guys, my hair is wet. I hate it when my hair is wet.”
“Look at all these rocks. This sand is kind of shitty, huh?”
I lie there and I listen as complaint after complaint gets hurled at the long, sprawling target that is my current sanctuary. I wait for someone, anyone to say something nice about it, but no one does.
I wonder why any of these people are here at the beach at all then if the beach, this beach at least, is clearly not what any of them want.
I sit up and lean on my log. My eyes scan over our inferior sand and its scatterings of pebbles and broken shells and shredded kelp. I see it all in its imperfection, but I feel nothing but fondness.
Don’t listen to them, I implore my surroundings. You may not be some perfectly groomed tourist beach in the Caribbean, but you’re home, and I love you.
And Happy Dad and Hannah loved you too, if only for a moment.
I stand up. The afternoon light glints off the pearly linings of mussel and varnish clam shells. Sun-baked knots of seaweed crackle under my feet as I stride down to the water’s edge, where the waves, cool and refreshing, lap at my toes. I splash into the shallows and make the long walk out to the place where the sand drops off.
For Happy Dad and Hannah, I think, and plunge in.