We finally make it to the beach in one piece, after marching like soldiers, each equipped with our compatible loads on our backs: beach blankets, towels, umbrellas, food cooler half full with beer, football, sunscreen, blow up floats, still deflated of course. We help each other to set up our territory among the scattered blankets around, careful not to upset the others, leaving the appropriate distance between us.
We sit down in our chairs with our beers, to relax at last, when, over the sounds of waves and seagulls and distant music, Carl begins to speak, out of the blue. Ordinarily a very quiet guy, always reflective, he now becomes animated and engaged, as if the beach itself has enlivened him:
“By any chance did you see the crushed and tattered egg that we passed on our way over the stony area of beach under the trees?”
None of us admitted to having remembered or even noticed.
“A potential life is discarded there amongst the stones from its home like a piece of trash on the beach. Discarded even before it has had the chance to pop its head out and look around to see if it even likes our world.” He pauses for a few moments. “When we were born, did we like it here? Or did we find the world cold, harsh, unwelcoming, sterile--like a hospital operating room filled with the scent of betadine and latex and the faint smell of stale expensive cologne coming from underneath the doctor’s scrubs? Was that cologne given to the doctor by his wife, carefully chosen to provoke the desired reaction, primarily from her own physical response to the scent, not even having touched his skin yet? Does the newborn baby wonder what all of this means? What were those smells and why did they both appeal to him and revolt him at the same time? Does the baby want to return to his safe haven, pull the blanket back up so that he is comfortable again, back to a place where he did not require a thing? All of his needs were met by his mother. No questions asked. No intrusion by enemy environmental irritations. Just bliss. Throughout our lives, do we search for this bliss? Do we wish to return, forever longing for that which we left behind?”
Carl adjusts his lounge chair so that he can lie back more comfortably. He looks out to sea for a while, a far away look in his eyes.
“Did we even belong here? Or would someone, our mother, our father, have thrown us out of the nest had they the choice? The nurses that are present on that day, on that shift, at that hour and moment, care for us with confident hands. Bathing us, washing away the afterbirth, allowing us to become one with the present moment in time. We are not after birth then. We are wiped clean, and our slate becomes fresh and untethered. We are then, and only then, allowed to become one with the present moment in time. For the first and only time. Once we are given a name, placed into the family line, the biological evidence is discarded to make room for the genealogical, the social and familial hierarchy. So, I ask once again, do we belong here? or have we been forced here against our will? Did we even have a choice? Could we actually admit to ourselves and to others that life is, in fact, the ultimate imprisonment, the biggest lie that we face? And again do we even belong here?”
Sophie drops her beer and gasps.
“Carl, that’s enough! What in the world has gotten into you today? Let’s just enjoy the beach, ok? I didn’t come here to get all philosophical. Jeez.”
She sighs and lays back down, flipping over on her stomach. After a moment, she decides to put her earbuds in her ears, to block out Carl’s musings entirely, entering her version of bliss.
John and Carol are still just sitting there. Listening silently. John is smoking and has a far away look in his eye. Carol is staring at Carl, admiring his tanned legs, a longing look in her eye. Carl is still gazing out to sea.
He gets up suddenly, throws open the top of the cooler and takes out a hoagie. Tuna, maybe? He begins to eat ravenously, like a man who has been on hunger fast for weeks.He turns towards the ocean, his back to Carol. He brings the hoagie to his lips and starts to sing. Softly at first, then louder. People are starting to turn around. The song is not recognizable, but his voice is stunningly strong. He continues to eat and tenses his muscles as he belts out the tune. The whole beach watches in awe.
Carl has now become, through his own devices, the star of his own show, the key player in his own life, if only for a moment. That particular moment in time. For that moment, his past and future disappear. He is only himself. Not Carl. Just himself. The guy with the tanned legs, the voracious hunger, and the limitless spirit.