Memory of an angel.
|I never really liked the sandy shores or the perfect Caribbean blue waters; I never even liked the calming and relaxing feeling of lying on a colourful towel. There was something ferociously beautiful about beaches with jagged rocks and rip tides, and the white caps that flip up even when there are no waves or wind to push them. It’s imperfect tranquility.
When the temperature drops and the storm clouds start to seep into the sky the tanning teenagers and cray-fish hunting boys run back to the crackling fires and television sets. It’s their way of sticking it to the weather. Some don’t even bother to pick up their towels or their sandals. A few buckets of mud and water still lie patiently at the edge of the tide. The hoards of people might be gone, but they leave their tokens, like impersonal ghosts waiting to return back to their souls.
I don’t know whether it was the idea of raw nature or the simple fact that indoor heating wasn’t working for me that took me out to the beach that afternoon. It might have been some higher power... it will be spoken of and believed in, but never truly tried. There he was, in all his untreated imperfectness. He had a dark green sweater that made the contours of his body impossible to define next to the forested background. I might not have even seen him if it hadn’t been for the sound of feet pattering on rock – somehow louder than the water smashing up onto the higher ground. The sound was a beat with no rhythm or pattern.
The weather stayed the same for three days. And for three days I didn’t talk to him. He was older, he was different, he was something I was incapable of describing. On the fourth day the clouds drifted back to their hiding places and the sun brought back the beach party. I spent a few minutes dawdling patiently at the water but he never came. Today was not a beautiful day, he wouldn’t come outside.
When the sun finally did decide that it needed rest I wandered back and forth at the foot of one of the loading docks. My shoes were filled with water, freezing my toes and the balls of my feet. Somehow the socks I’d decided to wear for warmth had instead become the perfect nesting ground for pockets of chilled water and cool air. I must have been standing there twenty minutes before I heard the familiar sound of an offbeat drumming.
Whatever courage I had been lacking was irrelevant; he stood up from the rock throne he’d created for himself out of jagged stone, and walked up onto the planked dock. Even the sound of his feet hitting the ground was inconsistent. It seemed like his entire being was a metronome that had lost its sense of time.
I was twelve. He was nineteen. His father worked at a news station, his mother died when he was three. People who saw us sitting together would often put their hands together and gossip about misdeeds that must be going on – after all, it’s been deemed impossible by society for two people to sit and enjoy each other’s company without feeling the need to lock lips.
One evening, as we stood up to brush away the inklings of sand that had engrained themselves onto the bottom of our sweaters, he smiled at me and told me to meet him in the same place the next morning. I frowned; I’d seen the news, and I knew that tomorrow was supposed to be a gloriously sunny day. He seemed to catch on to my confusion, and told me that he had a trick to show me.
The next morning was the first day that I ever believed in magic. I’d lost belief in Superman and Santa Claus; I don’t think I ever really believed in the tooth fairy, but for the first time I felt as though there really was something more. He told me to go and find a piece of sea glass; any colour, any size, and then place it in his outstretched palm. He would keep his eyes closed and he would be able to tell me the colour of the glass. At first I figured he was peeking. Nobody’s that good. I then put my own hands over his eyes to make sure, and again he got it right. It took me twenty perfect responses before I was able to let my mind waver for a moment. And then another twenty-five for me to actually understand that this wasn’t just some guessing game. He explained to me that each colour has a different significance to him. He would come out when it was cloudy and rainy because those were the days that the glass would rush up on to the shore from the water, and he would collect them.
I asked him what they meant and he told me there was no use in him telling me; that would only ruin my own interpretation of them. I sensed it was an argument that wasn’t worth battling. When I think back on it now, I really wish I had.
On Tuesday, April 7th, it marked three years. Three years since the phone call, three years since I searched through every letter, email, note I’d ever gotten from him, three years since I forced myself to look at every picture of him to try and see the hidden sadness. The hours I’d spent sitting in solitude, listening to the rain, afraid to go outside for fear that the softness of it might be different. The imperfectness of it might suddenly feel like an error instead of a beautiful one-of-a-kind trait.
Whether people believe in a heaven, the idea that the ones you love have found happiness after death is still important. I often imagined what it would be like if I could have just one more day. Just one more lazy afternoon of sea glass. And so, every so often, when I feel particularly strong, I delve into a state of mind where I can have that one day.
In this imperfect heaven there are no clouds, there are no wings, there are no miles and miles of blue sky and white ground. Instead it’s just a never-ending beach of jagged rock. He never leaves, he never sleeps, and he never stops wandering the shores looking for sea glass.
When he sees me it’s hard to describe his expression. At first it’s horror – he thinks I’ve joined him. Then it turns into a mystifying sense of yearning. Like no matter how much solitude one might love there is always room for companionship. There’s no hug, or words of love and longing. I miss him, he misses me. I love him, he loves me. We both know this; we have no need to say it. I don’t need to hug him to know he’ll hug me back.
So instead I lean back onto the grey rock, permanently held in place by the timeless amount of sand that had been comfortingly moving its way up with the waves. He picks up another piece of sea glass and places it calmly in my hand, then immediately turns back to search for more. His eyes scan over the hundreds of pebbles the way a knife might try and smooth over crunchy peanut butter. Every once and a while he’ll hit a nut and his gaze will jolt in another direction. His pocket is soon filled to the brim with pieces upon pieces of glass, bulging out from the sides, and a few look to be on the brink of falling back down onto the ground.
I put my hand out and he gives me another four. I can’t tell the colour without looking at them, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t know what they mean. The colour red signifies the rarity. The colour blue signifies the purity. The colour green represents the ease. The colour brown represents the comfort. And finally, the colour white represents the angel who never needed wings to make it to his heaven.
The waves crash angrily against the rocks and I feel my illusion start to dwindle. Suddenly the sea glass from my hand is gone, and the shore has disappeared. I’m back on my own, sitting, listening to the rain. A sound with no rhythm or beat; just imperfect tranquility.