Connor Wallace

I Remember

I sat on a stone wall that separated boardwalk from sea, civilization from wild, responsibility from freedom. My hands grasped at each other, reaching for something that wasn’t there. A warm breeze brushed against my face and danced through the thick, curly hair on top of my head. A lone seagull cried overhead, but I did not look up at it. My eyes remained downcast as the tourists sauntered along the boardwalk behind me, and as waves thundered down on the shore in front of me. I stared past the fidgeting hands and focused on the sand as if something would be written in it. As if there’d be a meaning or a message hidden in the trillion grains of sand that lay before me. Hours must’ve passed until I saw it. Not in the grains of sand but in the tired imagination of my mind. I saw the memories of how I got here, to this sea wall with empty, grasping hands.

        I remember the first time I tried to write, all those years ago, so many attempts
       that had yet to add up to anything.
       I remember the tireless encouragement from the woman who had given me
       I remember never being able to feel her love again.

I raised my downcast eyes to the sea ahead of me. The sun hung low in the sky shooting vibrant yellows and oranges into the still bright atmosphere above it. The endless ocean reflected the spectacular light and color, making the jovial figures in the water look like dark, playful pillars in contrast to the light. The sea air blew a gentle, salty kiss in my direction as I watched the horizon line. Seagulls were swooping like old dog fighting aces, diving and gliding, in and out, along the currents of the wind. As the horizon grew darker I thought I saw an exciting sight: a small pod of porpoises. Their sleek bodies dove in and out of the bright ocean waters. Then it happened again. I saw all the memories that have brought me here, facing this blazing sunset.

         I remember the English teacher who handed me a key to unlock a door I had not
         yet discovered.
         I remember the friend who unknowingly gave me that door to open, then dared me
         to break it down.
         I remember the mother who was not my own, who took me through that door, who
         helped me fill up the empty space to make it beautiful.

I closed my eyes and smiled at those memories of gifts and love I was given. Gifts that I could never give back. There were peachy clouds that floated through the deep and mighty purple sky. The sun sat peacefully on the infinite horizon. Playful beachgoers were slowly replaced by flocks of seagulls searching for scraps of discarded food. A handful of thoughtful tourists paused to take in the breathtaking panorama unfolding before them. A speck in the sky glinted, reflecting the light of the setting sun, and it caught my eye. Although it was only a gentle giant soaring through the sky, it still brought on its share of memories that I wish I could forget. The violent, hellish memories that plagued an already tortured mind.

        I remember the preparation, the training and indoctrination when the
        words “That
        others may live” became my battle cry.

         I remember the jumps, those from high in the atmosphere when the fall felt
        like it
        took a short lifetime, and those from only a few feet off the ground from an
        awaiting chopper when there was never enough time.

         I remember the men’s faces, the fear and pain twisted and frozen into some of the
         most heart wrenching expressions.

        I remember their cries, the smell of their tears, their sweat, and their blood, all
        mixed together and coated in thick layers of sand and dust.

        I remember the nightmares that followed.

The sun had gone down now, just below the horizon. It threw the last rays of light into the sky. The ever darkening sky held on to its lighter colored clouds as the vast sea before me grew dark with the onset of night. The sand was picked clean of food and the final sorties of seagulls had departed for the night. Locals and tourists alike had retreated to the shelter of restaurants, hotels, and homes. Conversation and laughter filled the cool night air. That’s when I heard it. Piercing the calm night to taunt me, and bringing on the hardest memories of all. I leapt from my perch on the seawall to escape but it was already too late. Once the flood begins, there’s nothing that can stop it. I walked over the cool sands to the water’s edge, and I remember.

        I remember the first time I heard your beautiful laugh that has now driven me to
        the water’s edge.
        I remember how you would hold my hands when they shook, when the nightmares
        were too much, when I was afraid.
       I remember the light you brought to my life, and the love that I felt.
       I remember the way we danced to the music of fancy ballrooms and to the music
       of late night radio stations in the kitchen.
       I remember the adventures we shared around the world.
       I remember how empty the world felt.

The breaking waves gently lapped against my toes as the stars began to shine overhead. The moon ruled the sky now, and her army of stars twinkled against the backdrop of night. I breathed in the sea air and felt the cool breeze caress my body. I stripped down to my shorts and waded into the murky depths of the Atlantic.

       I remember it all. After you were gone.
       I remember the adventure.
       I remember the news.
       I remember the nights
       I remember the hospitals
                     the doctors
                     the tests
                     the pain
                     the fear.
       I remember the diagnosis.
       I remember how the world we had made ours suddenly felt so empty … after you
       were gone.

I dove into an oncoming wave.
               I remember the first time I wrote.

It pushed me back, sending me tumbling into the sand
So I dove in again.
              I remember the key, the door, and the room it opened.
Again I tumbled through the the water on the shore
So once more I dove into the merciless water.
              I remember their faces, their screams, the nightmares.
I got further this time, but still find myself washed up on the beach
So I go again.
              I remember your laugh, your love.
I tumbled back again
I dove in one more time.
              I remember what it was like without you.
              I remember the nightmares.
              I remember when I couldn’t hold your hand.
              I remember the nightmares.
              I remember waking up alone.
              I remember the nightmares
              I remember
              I remember

Then it’s calm. I was far past the surging shore and caught my breath. Then I swam. I swam and I swam and I didn’t ever stop. Hours passed and I was far from any land. I laid flat on my back, finally exhausted enough to stop and float. I was still floating when the sun rose. Finally satisfied I closed my eyes.

              I remember holding your hand for the last time.
              I remember grasping for it, even when it was long gone.
              I remember the empty world I left behind.

As the sun fell again, I found myself on another shore. One devoid of all life. One that was empty and isolated. I wandered the vast shore until I found what I had come looking for. A stunning figure in a black dress, she has her back to me but I smile, for I know who it is.

I run to you as fast as my legs can carry me. When I feel your warm, familiar embrace, my tired and quivering body feels new and refreshed, my shaking limbs cease their involuntary jerks. There are no words, but as I hold you I can feel your shoulders quake and the sobs that were not far behind. I cannot help but to follow your lead as the familiar faces begin to appear around us. Family and friends alike gather, weeping for us. The faces of my nightmares surround us, but are no longer scarred and disfigured. Now they are alive and beautiful again. I hold you tight as the waves of the night gently fall upon the shore. The voices rise in a chorus of song, and I soon find that we are once again dancing together.

We dance to the sound of the tides.
We dance to the choir of the dead.
We dance to our beach music.

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