I walk out on the pier. The sun cuts shadows into the cement in a way that seems to slow everything down. My eyes have to adjust to make out the guys in the water. It’s windy; I have to tie my hair back. There is a couple next to me. They’re young. The girl is holding a toddler. He’s grunting and gesturing wildly with his tiny pointer finger over her shoulder. The kid wants to go back to the parking lot, bad. I hold my arms out to him.
“Do you want the strange lady to hold you?” I ask.
To my surprise, he does want the strange lady to hold him. He lunges toward me with his little baby arms outstretched. The girl smiles and releases him. He clings to me like a little, blonde Koala and we watch the surfers together. I teach him how to say my name and ‘sick turn, bro.’ The dad and I exchange surfer small talk. I’m happy to be standing here holding this baby because I’m nervous about paddling out. I don’t know why. Could be my injury, but I can’t say for sure. All I know is eventually I’m going to have to give this baby back and get in the water.
The road here was littered with abandoned text messages and unanswered phone calls. I didn’t even stop to look at Lido. I didn’t want to run into anybody. The trees bent silently in the wind as Pandora pumped indie-singer/songwriters through my struggling speakers. I haven’t washed my hair or shaved my legs. I don’t want to be charming or smart or sexy or professional or nice or accommodating. Or cool. Especially not cool. What I want is to escape some pressure because sometimes, despite an irrepressible sense of duty, I don’t want to work, surf or be Katrina.
The way this baby says my name is about the cutest damn thing you’ve ever heard in your life. I hand him back to his mom, reluctantly. They walk hand in hand down the sidewalk and I think about when Dylan was that little. I still drank back then, I hated myself and my life was entirely unmanageable. I look at myself in the car window as I apply copious amounts of sunscreen to my face.
Paddling out next to the pier makes me self-conscious. Everyone turns to see you arrive, like when you walk into a party and everyone stops talking to look at you. I must always have some stupid look on my face, too, because inevitably upon arrival in the line-up, before I even do anything, some guy asks me if this is my first time. Every time. I mean, I’m clearly a beginner, but I feel like I demonstrate mastery of at least a couple basic skills. I just kinda nod and say, “pretty much,” while trying to resist the urge to drown myself right then and there.
Thankfully, after a few minutes, I forget to care about anything and just start to have a shitload of fun. Sometimes it feels like my life is buoyed by a series of self-imposed pressures. Like if someone were to release the valve, everything I’ve built would collapse on top of me. No pressure, no diamond, right? Honestly, I fear that collapse. I really do. But out here right now, there’s no pressure; I’m ungodly happy and I realize that nothing is going to collapse. It can’t, in fact.
I surf until dark. My arm hurts. I don’t care. I pick my way carefully through the pine needles in my bare feet, grab a towel and put my board in the car. I’m not ready to go, though. Halfway back to the pier I realize I didn’t even check my phone and it occurs to me that I’m not in love with anyone. Not even a little bit. I smile and watch the last few guys bobbing out there in the near-darkness. Everything is shades of grey. They look so small and far away, as though darkness might eviscerate them any minute now. It won’t though. They’ll eventually catch one in and go home happy. Just like me.
*** PS… I’ll see you all tomorrow, September 15th, at Hang Ten for Autism!