It had been several weeks since we walked the beach, crossing side streets and passing intimately-lit cafes and restaurants along the way. The distant downtown lights dotted the southern horizon. Street performers echoed among the hum of engines and the quiet lap of gulf crest. This is our beach– or at least feels that way as we’ve been coming here for sunsets since 2001. Only everything about it is etched in change.
Our now teenage son, who obligingly strolled beside us, was once a tiny mewing thing carried in a pack at my breast. Then onto toddler years when he danced with abandon to steel drums and folk guitarists on the pavilion stage where now only a speaker pumping out rock favorites exists. There was the running-through-the-sand-dunes phase, the must-have-ice-cream phase, the I’m-terrified-of-the-water phase.
I’m trying hard to embrace these new teenage years. But everyone knows I’m mourning the past. My co-parent seems to be handling this new phase better than me. Perhaps it’s a motherhood thing, that we become emotionally consumed and overwhelmed by all the constant transitioning. The buzz of daily life shadows some of this agony but when nighttime unveils sometimes it is downright unbearable.
He was in a quiet but kind mood as we made a stop for drinks at the tiki hut which used to be nothing but the hut and a few picnic tables. Now a sprawl of neatly placed umbrella-covered tables and Adirondack chairs, some outdoor beach games, and a small stage where a talented solo guitarist happily strummed. The two of us sat and chatted as his dad went to get our drinks and the cool January wind whipped at our hair.
“Do you and Dad think there’s something off about me?” he asked.
“Off?” I replied. “Why do you ask that?”
“Because it seems you and Dad are always worried about me, or think I’m acting like something is wrong.” He looked at me with serious eyes, his phone retired to his lap.
“Well I think you’re just a normal teenage boy. And of course we worry. Do you think you’re ‘off’?”
“Good.” Pause. “You aren’t depressed, are you?”
“No,” he answered assuredly.
“Well if you ever do become depressed I hope you know you can talk to me. And your dad. Please just don’t shut us out, ok? We need to be open with each other, ok? You know I’ve had my bouts with depression so I know how it feels so don’t ever be afraid to talk to me, ok?” I wasn’t so much trying to lecture him but just make sure, for the thousandth time, that he could always come to me.
“Yes, Mom.” He gave a nod and a reassuring closed-lip smile.
His dad came back with our drinks and we chatted about happy things, funny school incidents, music, talents we wish we had, until hunger started to invade and it was time to make our way to get dinner.
As we passed the old trampolines (which actually had been replaced by newer, smaller ones) a pang of sorrow shuddered through me. That had been another phase, a long one. We’d stand there with our heads bobbing up and down as we watched his little buoyant body jump higher and higher until his grin was as big as the ocean behind him.
I focused back to what was right in front of me. I have to live in the moment even more so now than ever. Here is my altering but beautiful son beside me. On the other side his dad. And although we are divorced (such an ugly word) we are still a united front when it comes to the most amazing thing we ever did or will ever do.
We commented on the new, wider sidewalks by the pavilion and the now sparseness of the vendors on the pier. Then up ahead we saw him. The odd fella with the rolling podium and the microphone, sending signals to perhaps outer-space, who has been strolling the pier since the days before our son was even a growing light in the depth of the womb.
“So many changes but some things never do,” I commented as we passed the alien.
We arrived at the restaurant, requested an outside table, and waited. I noticed a table of older women, all Golden-Girls style and laughing as they exchanged stories and clinked cocktails. I wondered how these ladies endured the sadness that surely came over them when their children had left their houses and the quiet inside the walls was too much to endure. I hope I’m as happy as they seem now, when I get to that point, I said to myself.
The early winter sky gave a dark but peaceful cast on the streets and dunes and gulf beyond.
“Your table is ready,” the hostess announced. The three of us walked in unison. More of a carefree evening just before us, casting off the fret of time, for a moment.