I’ve finally arrived at the island that is known around the world for its seashells. I’m unloading the car in the parking lot of Lighthouse Beach on Sanibel Island. The sun is beating against my back and seems intense enough to melt the polyester fibers in my shoulder seams. I enter the Men’s restroom to change into my swim suit. The address of the Men’s room is 133 Periwinkle Way, in case you want to see its roof on Google Maps. After washing my hands, I hold them under a hot air dryer. Why? By the time I get back to the car, my hands will be wet with sweat.
I search the mess on the back seat and mutter something only slightly obscene because I have forgotten my velcro water shoes. I’ll have to cross the parking lot in shoes with socks or go barefoot. I opt to leave my socks and shoes in the car. Shoes and socks and sand are well-known to not play well together. The asphalt isn’t bad as it looked, but just before I reach the boardwalk to the main beach, I am faced with a six-foot border of broken periwinkle shells. I take a step. It hurts my tender soles–the soles that have spent the better part of four years cushioned by thick hiking socks. I walk like a baby. It’s painful. I must look like a Hindu from Aruppukkottai, India, who has failed Introduction to Fire-Walking. Walking on burning coals can’t be as bad as the periwinkle shells.
Fire-walking is not on my bucket list.
I’ve been in Florida a week. I’m learning to carry some kind of footwear everywhere. Did I mention that I had tender soles?
Standing on the beach, I eye a thunderstorm, a majestic Cumulonimbus, building off shore. Meanwhile, the sun continues to kill superficial skin cells on my shoulders. After applying a bit of SPF 45, I test the waters. Thank God it’s not like the water off the shore of Maine. It’s nearly warm. In fact, it’s an immense relief to wade out to my waist. I kneel on the hard sand and pose for a Facebook photo. Mariam goes back to the new beach chairs ($10.99 + tax each) and settles in to read a book on her iPad. I’m alone with only a few shell divers and a family near me. I’m surprised so few people are here on such a hot day–a hot Saturday–a really hot Saturday.
I watch two young women bring three long poles and a shovel to a place a short distance from Mariam. What are they going to do? Twenty minutes later, there is a tripod with waving silken curtains of mauve and salmon and blue. Out comes the white chairs. There’s going to be a wedding on the beach. A young woman and young man (?) are going to pledge their lives to each other on white sand and periwinkle shells. I wish them luck with a quiet whisper. Bitterly, I wonder if they’re marrying for love or money. It’s hard to tell out here on Sanibel Island. It’s the Fairfield County of the south. I’m sure places are even more affluent around Miami, but its hard to imagine.
I see three people heading to the water’s edge. It’s a middle age couple. Between them is an old woman with a foam floating tube beneath her arms. They are holding her up. They take her out to the deeper water. The old woman laughs. She shrieks with delight. She is giddy with the feeling of sea water on her wrinkled skin. I wonder how long it has been since she has felt the ocean surround her. Maybe this is a weekly ritual, but I don’t think so. There is something in her eyes that speaks of a certain tiny fear coupled with her pleasure. The couple who support her–I admire them. I hope someone, my son, my daughter, my wife is around to hold me tightly when I reach that age–and they will carry me out to the sea.
My fingers tips are getting dimpled. My skin must look like those bodies they find in the East River, after a mob hit. The “floaters” they say on CSI. I call to Mariam to come out with my iPhone. I pose my hand. She takes a few images but I can’t see them with all the glare. Later, when I’m choosing the photo that works the best, I begin to wonder about inserting it into a post like this. My hand looks like some mocking and inane version of the Lady of the Lake who threw King Arthur his sword, Excalibur. Then I realize it looks like a New York Post front page photo of a drowning victim off Coney Island. I decide to insert it anyway. I trust my faithful readers to understand what I was trying to convey.
It’s time I took a walk along the beach, along where the waves wash the sand, where the walking is easy. I set out. The sea gulls part when I pass them. A great philosopher once said that if you want to write something bad or evil about someone, write it in the sand. That’s not great philosophy–that’s just common sense. Chisel nothing in rock but write in the sand. Write a sexy novel, an anarchistic diatribe, a love poem of heartbreaking intensity and full of Romantic images, a bad joke, a brutal confession or a boring essay on palm oil extraction. But write it in sand. Draw an obscene image, draw a heart and arrow with a pair of initials. Pierce the heart with an arrow of Cupid.
But draw it in sand.
Time to go back to Mariam and begin packing up. We only paid for two hours parking.
As I returned along the same shore, I noticed that my foot prints were gone. The traces of my being on this beach, on this day, will be gone in an hour. By then, the wedding will probably be over.
Is this the destiny of my life and accomplishments? My writings, my photos are interesting for a few moments, and then lost forever.
I begin to envy the humble Periwinkle. It’s not the showy conch and no one yells when they pick up one of these little shells.
I envy it, because those shells will be there in five hundred years.
And, they will still be on the beach, but this time, alongside someone elses footprints.