I sat on a driftwood log watching a sandpiper strut slowly on the tide line. It occasionally pecked into the sand, its success or failure invisible to me. Maybe it wasn’t eating. Maybe it was just walking around, pecking because of some natural drive. Over the water seagulls wheeled and screeched, on their insistent patrols. I looked back down and the sandpiper was joined by another and they started taking turns pecking. It made me think of the drinking bird toy I had in my bedroom on the windowsill. The sun shining on it would make it peck at the sill like the sandpiper did the beach.
There was a chilly breeze today, but I didn’t mind. I was leaving soon, not sure where I was headed or when I would get back. If ever. The waves were creeping closer and closer as I sat there, trying to absorb as much of my surroundings as I could. Like a towel cast on a wet floor, osmosis working overtime. Suck it in. The beach was virtually abandoned, probably the cold fall air at work. Offshore an oyster boat was clanking away, lifting its drag to dump it on the deck where the oysters would be separated from the by-catch. It looked like there was only a single guy working the boat.
To my left was Rowayton and Five Mile River, the quasi harbor that housed so many boats. A sea of masts and rigging punctuated by power boats of every stripe. Along its bank a row of businesses, their buildings gray from weathering as they sat upon pilings, their docks reaching out. I taken my boat over there just yesterday, handing back to old man Jenkins, owner of the boatyard my dad had bought it from. A Boston Whaler of 20 feet that had provided me with a thousand memories, most good. Some awful. I’d run over one of my best friends with that boat, playing a stupid frogman game. Three of us were out copying a movie when my friend slipped and fell, swept under the boat where the propeller of the outboard cut the meat of his thigh again and again. The memory made me cringe.
I moved on to the many fishing trips I’d taken with it, the fun times I’d had alone or with friends. Turning the boat back had broken my heart –I have the scar still to prove it, just like Doug’s leg. There wouldn’t be anymore of this for a while. I had new adventures on the way. I’d gotten a glimpse of them in posters on the wall of the New Haven Army Recruiting office. A staff sergeant named Pia had told me how I would become a man, do my country good. Go ahead, kid. Choose what you want to do. I did, and now it was time to go, to report back to New Haven where they would whisk me off to become a soldier.
But for the moment, I was at home and looking at all that had become so familiar to me over the years. A bittersweet moment, part of me already homesick, another part of me excited and anticipating. Another part frightened. This was it, after all. I was leaving my childhood behind. Gone the protection of home and family, replaced by the regulated cadence of military life. Like the guy said, I was about to be a man.
A stick came in on a wave, left in front of me like a gift from a dog. Dropped at my feet. I stood up and walked to the waters edge and picked it up. The sandpipers trotted clumsily away from me, giving me a look with their glass-like black eyes. A couple of hovering gulls squawked at them, or perhaps at me. Who knows. I took the stick back to my seat on the log and sat again. I drew meaningless designs in the sand that I knew would be erased shortly. I inhaled deeply, smelling the odors of salt, mold, seaweed and God knows what else. It made me think of the joke that the recruiter had told me. Getting me comfortable and all. About how Adam and Eve were at the beach and Eve ran and jumped into the water. God complained that now there’d be no way to get the smell out of the fish. I hadn’t gotten the joke, but I laughed anyway. I thought about it some more as I sat there, finally giving up and going back to just looking out over the sound. Saying goodbye.
The sun had moved fully to the west and had started to hide itself behind the horizon. The chill finally got to me and I stood up. I pitched the stick out into the water and watched it bob for a minute, caught in the waves. It would be ashore again soon, but I wouldn’t be there to see it.