Yesterday was my last day on the island. I had a couple of days on my own after the memorial: after all the family had been and hugged and cried and gone, after we all went out on a boat in Biscayne Bay on a sunny, windy, rainy Sunday. Mostly I slept and did errands and went to lunch and drank café con leche with those extra days, but yesterday afternoon I went to the beach.
How many times have I gone there? How many times have I walked into the water, got stickers in my bare feet, hopscotched over the winter jellyfish, avoided the cordoned-off sea-turtle nests, or wrinkled my nose when I had to go through a particularly slimy and scratchy patch of sargassum. How many times have I looked out at the calm calm sea?
I walked all the way to the lighthouse and back; from Mom’s townhouse where I was staying in March it’s not that big of a walk, but from the friend’s apartment I was borrowing at the other end of the island it was slightly more of a commitment. An hour there, an hour back. I haven’t exercised since I arrived in Florida two months ago so I hardly looked at the water but just barreled down the slope of the sand, looking up, looking down, just going going going. It felt good to walk as fast as I wanted for as long as I wanted.
That’s the beach club where we used to go as kids. That’s where one of the the old hotels used to be. That’s the turn to the townhouse. All this pointless nostalgia—it doesn’t matter, does it. The sand packed down hard, the waves barely rippled. It’s a barrier island, protecting something from something else.
I took a couple pictures of the lighthouse, as you do, and clambered around on the rocks a bit, but didn’t stay long because I didn’t care much about anything except walking. The sun set but I didn’t really see it. I tiptoed around a blue heron with its feet in the water—not hunting or anything, as far as I could tell, just sort of hanging out on the beach, like any tourist. Was it the same one Mom used to see on her walks sometimes and tell me about during our weekly phone conversations? A year ago maybe, when herons were something she could talk about and when I was still planning for her to come and visit for me in Wellington for a month in October.
Will you ever come back here, people asked me all weekend.
Uh, I don’t know, I replied. Over and over again.
Grapetrees, sea grass, ibis in the borrow pits and impromptu ponds that form in carefully planned landscaping after a hard rain. That blue and green that doesn’t exist anywhere else. Step by step by step by step; the sand under my feet, the sky getting dark, the days getting done with. The waves shushing up against the barrier island.