The shores of memory

We half-walk, half-shuffle through brown sand littered with shell fragments, on a clean but otherwise unremarkable beach bracketed on one side by the churning gray waters of the ocean and on the other by a geometric mass of steel, concrete, and weather-worn plastic that, in the pink-purple clarity of the sunset, looks less like a charming coastal town and more like a recently unearthed, life-size time capsule from the 80’s. Gold and aquamarine Ozymandias. I finger the rust on the fence as I wait to cross the road.

The convenience store, the perfect site for data collection on types of local demand, sells rice crackers, cooler-sized blocks of ice, baggies of pineapple chunks bobbing in their juice, and five kinds of flavored vodka. I wander the aisles in flip-flops and a khaki dress, my salt-encrusted hair escaping from its clam-shell clasp to swim down my back in a wave vaguely redolent of seaweed, potato chips, and canned beer. Outside, trucks roll past, down the seaside road that connects us to Tokyo, and Tokyo to the distant, isolated, snow-covered north.

I return to the shore empty-handed. I pretend to nap, my head in Strawberry’s lap and my eyes facing the froth of the tide, as he makes conversation with our friends and acquaintances. We will spend six hours idle here, traveling from the tent on the beach to the tidy Seven-Eleven fifty meters away only to relieve ourselves, or to replenish our stock of ice and chips. The day moves forward, not dully, but with no feeling behind its ticking seconds, like a bloated episode of television. The crash of the waves is methodical, meditative, and evokes nothing but itself. Perfect to drown out any persistent thought, or to soften the burn of any blistering memory. The temperature of the air is neither warm nor cool, but still not entirely comfortable. I keep awkwardly shifting my position, fracturing any possibility of real rest. My mouth tastes like the artificial vanilla of cheap soft-serve. My thighs are wet, cold, and clammy to the touch, like refrigerated meat in its Styrofoam package, sitting in a shallow bath of blood.

The older I get, the more closely I parody the paranoia of my father, the melancholia of my mother. I say “parody” because it feels intentional and ironic, and sometimes gratifying and clever. But, to be honest, it can also feel uncontrolled, inevitable, and painful. Less like performance and more like fate. Regardless, it is one thing above all else to slowly transform into one’s parents, and that is “annoyingly self-inflicted,” the way continuing a nicotine addiction is both a choice and not a choice. I cannot help but to grow into my mother’s hands and my father’s legs, which sit on me oddly, like parts cobbled together in the style of Frankenstein. I cannot help but manifest their bad habits, absorbed during the porous days of childhood and released now like ancient volcanic vapors. The marks of genetic destiny are obvious even in baby photos in which I lie, swaddled in white linen, already in possession of the family frown. Sometimes I think I own nothing of my own. Even lying on the beach, sand between my toes, Strawberry’s hand on my head, his thumb weeding pebbles from my hair, feels like a borrowed dream, an echo from a past that I didn’t live.

I feel the shadows of my family most acutely at the beach, where I spent so many summers with them in my pampered infancy, and frenetic childhood, and grumpy, scary adolescence, and frightened adulthood. It means I am always dying to visit the ocean and then, once there, totally unable to understand its appeal. Nostalgia exerts a special kind of pressure, strong enough to compel the strangest behavior—I’ve seen it induce people to even bear children, as though shaping and clay-firing a vessel of innocence could restore to life the memory of their own.

But I feel no comfort from nostalgia; its most immediate side-effect, once satiated, is only sadness, felt as the prickly chill of lost time, escaping from the mind as inexorably as air-conditioned inhalation from a cracked-open car window rushing down the highway. (I remember my pimply arms piled parallel to the sticky rubber gap between window and seat, like a spectator to my own life.) This—nostalgia’s brew of sadness—means I am a moody beach-goer. I get up, pad a few steps away from the tent, away from the water, to stare at the concrete blocks that divide the sand from the road. I can see a row of flowers, buried up to their necks in the strip of soil around the Seven-Eleven. The heat is vanishing, from terror to shimmer to nothing. I hold my hand over my eyes like a visor as I scan the clouds for a reason to leave, or a reason to stay.


1 comment

  • Glad to read about another beach visit of yours. I remember seeing you filled with excitement when we had gone to Machilipatnam beach.

    I could also relate to what you mentioned about how we inherit some physical features and traits from our parents.

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