Sunday morning I take a walk to the beach, just about forty minutes from where I live. The rest of the weekend has been very social and tiring and I’ve hardly been home; when I wake up I spend some time in bed, just looking at the stuff in my room, watching the glow of the light on the white sheets, understanding that this is where I live now. A is home and after we both finally get up we discuss laundry for a while and take out the rubbish together, wearing our pajama pants and talking about our respective Saturday evenings. I borrow some sunscreen and sunglasses and pack my journal and a couple of magazines and head out into the surprising warm, listening to my flip-flops flip and flop against the pavement and stretching my neck to be able to glimpse the tiny wedge of sea directly in front of me, showing me the way, straight ahead, straight straight ahead.
I walk past the little shops and cafes of Island Bay and think about everything that’s happened since I arrived almost exactly two months ago: all the nervousness and uncertainty, the deep brief joy, the mistakes and the unfamiliarity and the new intuitive routines. I think about all the people I’ve met here and everything I’ve done so far, and wonder where and to whom the next ten months will take me. The air is soft and I hear birds singing over the music in my earbuds as I flip-flop along.
The beach is immediate, right up against the road, and I pass through a little park with its swings and slides to get to it. Some native plants, per the signage, to conscientiously avoid before getting down onto the dark smooth sands, before getting to the hush and suck of the chilly green waves. The ferry pushes along out way beyond the breakers and I can see the thickened misty shapes that indicate the South Island if I squint really hard. A couple of degrees in the other direction and there’s nothing, only water and waves until you reach Antarctica. “It’s going to get lonely for a while,” promises Viva Voce, and I watch a kid and her father fly a kite ahead of me as I roll up my pant legs and feel the water’s coolness under the sediment. Rocks and waves and sand and driftwood; you’d never know there was a big busy road just a couple of meters away unless you’d had to cross it to get there, which of course you have.
I buy lunch at a café and manage to mistake a two-dollar coin for a dollar. The waitress has a North American accent and smiles at me with understanding. She knows, she’s been there. She doesn’t ask where in the States I’m from, or how long I’m over here, or how I like New Zealand so far. She just gives me my correct change and goes to make my sandwich, her own story locked behind her friendly face, inaccessible to me and everyone else she’ll serve today. Where is she from, and how did she get here? Is she here for love or adventure or a little of both or some other reason I can’t even guess, here at the café by the beach, here on the other side of the world? She smiles again and gives me my sandwich and I stick it in my bag with a couple of napkin and go out the rocks.
I don’t go very far, not as far as the seal colony or even to the big rusted gate. I just find a little place above the tideline and try to settle in. The rock is brittle and slanted and stabby and I scrape my flip-flopped feet more than once, clutching my bag and hoping my sandwich doesn’t drip everywhere. I think about all the different types of rock I’ve seen when I’ve been here before and wish I knew more about geology, why they’re all shaped and colored differently one spot to the next, why some of the pools have the lavish wreckage of the kelp strewn all over them and others are clogged with strange gray strings of what look like furry plastic pop-bead necklaces. My little perch affords me a view into several tiny pockets of water caught in various crevices, and I get a crick in my neck hunching down to look at limpets and anemones. I think about the old beach at home, before they did the first sand reclamation and covered up all the rocks near the hotels’ sea walls. My sister and I used to pry sea snails off them and bring them to our mother, who graciously allowed us to affix them all over her bathing-suited self, making molluscy necklaces. I pry one up, out of its tiny liquid pucker where it’s biding its time, and try to make it open out onto my wrist. It refuses to be a single charm on a seaweed bracelet and I put it back where I found it.
I eat my sandwich and look out at the waves. I write in my journal and read my magazines. The rocks are rough underneath me and the wind flutters my pages; the gulls screech and I hunch down and try to scoot over to follow the sun. I didn’t really get a summer this year, I think. I’ve had Seattle-ish weather for almost twelve months and I am starved for short sleeves and skirts. At my California going-away party it was so hot we couldn’t even turn the lights on in the house. “Think of us when you’re cold,” everyone said, sweating in the dark, fantasizing about igloos and avalanches and walk-in freezers. I think about wearing my lost bikini and sulu every day in Fiji, about hovering grateful and wide-eyed over the parrotfish and crabs on the reef. I put my hoodie reluctantly back on and recall the luxury of having to move into the shade so as not to get too hot.
Before the wind picks up again and before I get too uncomfortable on the sharp rocks; before I go back to the café for a hot chocolate and to listen to live classical guitar music; before I walk back up past the sandy part of the beach and the playground with its dogs and babies and swings, I look out to the horizon, as far as I can see. It all burns and melts together: the water and the wind and the rocks’ sharp edges, the distant island and the cries of the gulls, the snails in their shells in their pools. The sun gives me a last burst, a last kiss, and I creak up from my damp and salty seat and pick up my bag of paper to teeter and balance my way home over the nooks and crannies, the bright waves at my back.