by Marin Poleshek
I have never loved the beach; anyone who knew me as a child could tell you that. To everyone else, the beach is beautiful. Fun. A relaxing escape. A refuge. But, in my undeveloped eyes, the beach represented all of the things I most feared. Messiness. Loose plans. A lack of control. Though the beach was my first home, going to the beach has always felt as if I am doing the exact opposite of going home. Naturally, I avoid going at most every opportunity I have.
As I look at this picture, I am reminded of how little tolerance I had for the feeling of sand between my toes. Or my nonexistent capacity for negative feelings. I am filled with gratitude for my growth, but I am simultaneously overcome by jealousy for my childish unawareness and naivety. I envy my ability to express my discontent, even over the most trivial of things. I envy my lack of knowledge and understanding about my future. I envy the absence of my multitude of expectations. Labels. Stereotypes. Definitions. I envy my confidence in who I was, though I did not yet have a firm grasp of my true identity.
I am alone in the picture, which is almost comical. Even at age three, I knew that I was always destined to be alone. To some extent, I am the same girl that I was in 2007. The only difference is that, now, my loneliness is my greatest downfall.
I like to think that I should have known better than to embrace my individualistic nature with unrequited abandon. I should have known better than to view myself as an introvert, championing my ability to spend wealths of time by myself. I should have known better than to take long walks down the beach in silence, removing myself from the world for reasons other than sheer necessity.
What does one even do on the beach, anyway?
I have little to no concept of what normal people do when they say they are “going to the beach,” because I know nothing of oceanside community. I am a foreigner to sandcastle contests, towel tanning, volleyball games. I never did get to experience the rite of passage of hanging out by the Point of Rocks pier. I have never particularly enjoyed the sickeningly thick consistency of overpriced snack bar ice cream sliding down my parched summer throat. Yet the beach is my home. Isn’t it?
To an outsider, the little girl in the picture looks at peace. She seems calm. Tranquil, even. The girl in the picture looks comfortable in her surroundings, as if she is one with the coarse sand and salty ocean water. An outsider would never know if she hated this walk she had embarked on. If someone were to come up to her and ask how she is doing, I can say with complete confidence that the little girl would respond with the most optimistic adjective a three year old mind has the ability to conjure. I am certain that she would smile from ear to ear, challenging her inquisitor to dare to believe that she is anything less than fine. That her life is even a little bit uncomposed. That she is anything other than perfect.
Oh the things I wish that I could tell her.
I wish I could tell her that life is a fruit, but hers will never be ripe nor shiny. I wish I could tell her that her bruised skin reflects her strength rather than her failure. I wish I could assure her that she is beautiful, and that anyone thought that tells her otherwise is a liar. I wish I could convince her that, even though she may not believe it, she will eventually become the apple of someone’s eye.
You cannot see the girl’s smile, but maybe that is a good thing. Maybe, even in 2007, she knew that life was not going to go her way. Maybe not.
I try to place myself in her shoes. I have been trying to place myself in her shoes for a week now, and I can’t. I can’t imagine what it felt like to be weightless. I have a hard time believing that the crushing weight of pressure did not always bear down on me.
But most of all, I struggle to come to terms with the reality that my life was never a bubble.
I was popped from the start and have only continued to deflate.
I guess it does not ultimately matter whether or not I resemble the girl who once walked along the seashore simply because she could. I am different now, and I have come to realize that maybe this life is not supposed to be linear. Predictable. Predefined.
A lot of things have changed. I let my hair reach past my shoulders now. The sun has stained my skin a shade just darker than the cashew color of my childhood. My mind is no longer void of worry, and I wake up each morning contemplating how to go about fulfilling my purpose rather than wondering what my purpose might be.
But some things remain the same.
The cool whisper of autumn air has maintained its wonder, invigorating me just as it always has. My house still doesn’t feel like home, but I continue to find home in other places. Talking is hard, but I keep trying to do it anyway. I still don’t love the sand, but my perspective on the beach has changed.
Though the beach will never be my favorite, I will continue finding joy within it.
Though my life will never be flawless, I will continue walking on.