There was nothing to do and nowhere to go yet. There was only seeing. It was afternoon. There were no clouds in the sky. It was a muted blue. As though it wanted to be aquamarine or neon blue or the color of tropical fish, but it was seen only through a gauzy veil. Of smog, of pollution. What most people say of this city. What people think it is about. What people think you are going to taste when you first arrive.
Eve did not notice. Or, if she did, she did not care. She only knew that she was here, and she was alive, and that was all that really mattered. That she had arrived and it was going to be whatever she wanted it to be. That she had arrived and it was going to be an adventure. That she would make a life. That I would be there with her, beside her, whatever happened.
We asked the attendant nearby about a bus away from the airport. We asked where we should go. He looked at us with a quizzical expression on his face. He looked like he thought we were strange. We were, and we loved it. We knew that we were different than any two people who had ever landed in this city. We were different than any two people in the universe. We were going to take this moment, this day, we were going to shake as much as we could out of it. Out of every moment. He sold us tickets and showed us where to wait for the bus. It would take us west.
Of course, we went west. Of course. We wanted to go to the ocean first.
There was no ocean at home. There was a large, sparkling lake. The kind that was man-made, lined with cement. But it was ours, and it was home. Years ago they had built it as a replacement for the marsh they had drained. But the birds had already left and only a few fish returned. They tried to recreate what they had destroyed, but they couldn’t. And they only did it half-heartedly. The city officials pretended that they were sorry about the decisions they had made so long before, but their insincerity was as sharp as the creases in their starched shirts. Their eyes were dead as the birds and the fish.
Still, that lake was ours. It was where we sat with strings tied to long tree branches, mealworms hooked on the end, passing hours, days, seasons away. Childhoods were left on the edges of that large cement lake. We slipped out of them, shed them there. We found different places along the shore to cavort. We went swimming on the beach made of sand that had been trucked from who knows where. It was brown and strangely uniform. Every now and then we would find empty malt liquor bottles and cigarette butts in the sand, if we went early enough in the morning, before the keepers found them. Eve and I never left ours. She was exuberant and wild and free, but she believed in picking up after herself, whether she was in a restaurant or on the street or on a man-made beach at midnight.
Eventually, we stopped going to that beach. We grew out of it, the way that people do. We would only go there when we longed for nostalgia, when we were looking to be reminded of a time and a feeling that had grown far from us as they always do. We can never stay in one place for too long.
The bus ride was not as long as we expected. We had no real sense of the scale of the map we looked at. And we arrived there, at the ocean. There were tall smoke stacks billowing dark grey clouds into the shrouded blue sky. The sun was warm.
We were left on the sidewalk as the bus left us in its exhaust.
There was only one thing on our minds: to touch the ocean.
It spread before us. Sidewalk. Street. Cars whizzed past. This was not the picture that I envisioned, but it was hard to remember that in the midst of Eve’s wonderment. She caught me up in it. She made me forget that this was not a postcard scene. She made me think that postcards were never real anyway. Contrived sights, ones that have been seen so many times that they become soulless except for what they evoke from the people who buy them. They are strange. Public notes that get sent around the world, from friend to friend or family to family member or lover to lover. Writing something that someone will be able to read and attach to your name, attach to an address, attach to a location. Whoever comes across the postcard will have access to a specific moment in time, a where you were when you sent it and to whom. How near or far you were. Whether you wrote something vague but still heartfelt. Whether you did not bother censoring yourself against public exposure. Whether you wrote and allowed yourself to be completely exposed. Your handwriting. The stamp you chose. The person you sent it to.
Eve wanted us to write handwritten letters home. I hated my handwriting. It was legible, relatively clear, but it never looked the same. The uniformity was in its unevenness. Letters would be slanted just a bit more in every word. Sometimes the letters would swallow each other up and a word would only be legible when taken in context, and even then, I could be unclear.
In that way, I fit with this place, too. Unclear.
We crossed the street. Walked over the grey sidewalk, over the black asphalt, under the steel poles holding up the traffic lights with their red, yellow, green lights. I looked up at the street sign hanging above our heads as we crossed. Suspended from the pole, it was three-dimensional. It seemed so large. It did not seem quite real hanging there. It seemed like it was a drawing. Our reality is so filled with fictional representations and caricatures that we compare the real thing to that which we’ve seen imagined. I looked up at the green sign with its white letters and the small symbol of a bird in the corner. The words were bright white. I marveled. Eve and I stood in the street staring together.
There was no one else in the crosswalk. Not many people walked in this area in the middle of the week, in the middle of the day. Where was everyone? They were in the cars, they were in the chain restaurants, they were in the factories that populated this place.
So it was just us, and that sign, dangling above our heads. And the grey sky. And the black asphalt. The cars idling around us. The cars whizzing past us.
Then someone’s horn blared a warning to us and we were snapped out of our trance. We were entranced as though we had never seen a sign like that before. As though this was the first we’d ever seen.
Everything feels new in a new place in a new time in a new climate.
We heard the ocean before we saw it. The sound soaked our eardrums. Eventually, we found our way to the edge of the sand. Our bags fell from our shoulders and we pulled off our shoes and socks.
Toes sank into the sand. We pulled our bags up off of the sand and walked toward the water. It was so windy. Violent, almost. Our hair whipped around our faces and tangled with our lashes.
The beach was desolate. Just us, the waves, and hungry seagulls.
We closed our eyes.