Seaside at Provincetown
I knew nothing then about life being ephemeral.
She chose me from among the others hanging out on the beach. The fishing boats were idle. There were no waves, only the gentle wake of water lapping the shore darkened by twilight and wet sand and debris.
I was aware that I was being watched. I turned to look at the eyes that were watching me. They belonged to an olive-skinned woman who wore short cropped dark hair, perhaps five or six years older than myself. She was standing beside another woman. They were drinking from a bottle in a paper sack--juice I later learned, not alcohol like everyone else on the beach was drinking, (including me, an underaged city kid who had hitch-hiked a ride to Provincetown and who had been dropped off only moments before at this beach facing the ferry dock).
She approached me, not with a hello but by locking her arms around my neck, and she did this while her friend watched, while the others on the beach frolicked, and while the wake of the tide lapped the shore.
I never asked why she chose me from among the others. I never asked why she kept clinging to me when we later went searching for a room, and, rebuffed for lack of funds or lack of availability at several of the inns we approached, why she kept clinging to me. I never asked, even after a bumpy Jeep ride onto the dunes, where we finally huddled against the cold in a sleeping bag together, and, under the starlit sky, lay together near where the Race Point lighthouse lamplight streaked across the sands.
In the morning, she untangled her arms from me and wiped the sleep from her eyes, and, using a small pocket mirror and a few droplets from a canteen, washed the dirt from her olive skin and cleaned herself the way a cat might clean its face and whiskers, using the moistened palms of her hands.
She said no one other than her girlfriend knew she was away. She had left the city only a day before. She said she escaped from her husband and his beatings. He was a boy my age but after they married, he was sent overseas. When he returned on leave from the war, he brought the war back home with him. He roared the way the sea now roared around us, and he slapped her the way the waves were now slapping the shoreline.
And then I heard the waves, because she wasn’t speaking in her low voice in the makeshift tent that had been hurriedly assembled the night before to provide us with a shelter against a wind that I now heard, as if for the first time, whistle all around us. I heard the wind and the waves and then I no longer heard them, because she was speaking again about needing to return to town, about needing to say goodbye, to keep moving on. Then she covered herself and we dressed quickly, and I heard the sound of the sea and the wind again.
I knew nothing then about life being ephemeral. I was not prepared for this abrupt coming together and coming apart. I had thought that one moment builds and morphs into other moments as the person I met and joined together with assumed a natural place in my life, and that, if not that morning, certainly by the next evening, she and I would discuss how we might make plans to see each other again.
I did see her again on Commercial Street that next evening, but she was with another man. I lowered my head so she would not see me, and she faded into the crowd.
I have since searched for Anna, for that was the name she gave on the beach facing the ferry dock. I have hoped to find her, or someone like her--someone whose eyes scan a crowd and who chooses me from among the others. Like Anna, I have anchored myself to others because sometimes it is necessary to hold fast to others and to share temporary shelters away from elements that roar, or lacerate. But then there comes a time when the cold winds abate, when the morning sun rises and warms, when the waves are calmer, and when whatever was feared is gone.