And who is that woman picking up feathers and broken bits of abalone shells and the thoughtlessly tossed plastic bottles that she will carry to the proper bin, futile though it is, annoyed and trying not to touch the mouths? Who is that woman walking the seashore and ascending the hills, in love with the world and afraid for it? She is deep in thought but trying not to think, her body a vessel filled with sadness and light. She is almost old.
There was to be an end-of-summer get-together, and more and more people kept drifting up from the beach, turning it into an impromptu communal feast. The fishermen were there with fresh-caught yellowtail, fried, grilled, or sashimi style, the farm and country women appeared wearing embroidered cotton tunics over bathing suits, bearing bowls of potato salad and heirloom tomatoes, and a young family showed up with take-out containers of Middle Eastern hors d’oeuvres. Children with sand in their hair ran around on the grass inventing games, a barefoot boy sat on the ground by a bucket adeptly gutting a fish, and old friends hugged and raised their glasses, surprised at how time flies. Ribbons of conversation floated in the air. Anyone would have loved it.
Except, apparently, me. I am genuinely fond of some of these folks, but it had been a long day already, and my hearing impairment makes it difficult to distinguish words when there’s a lot of ambient noise, and I was having trouble sustaining focus. And there were cell phone pictures to look at, and adorable toddlers with their wants, and wet dogs under foot, and far too many people for my rusty social skills. I imagine there are those who linger at parties milling around confidently, energized by all the socializing, but I’m an introvert. I appreciate one-on-one on conversation and intimate gatherings, but shindigs deplete me, and I shut down early. Already, I could feel myself squinting and a hint of headache creeping in. So I looked around wistfully, then slipped away.
I felt better as soon as I passed the eucalyptus trees, their trunks glowing in the golden light. I crossed the railroad tracks, saw a horse silhouetted on a hilltop, observed the colors of the tropical sky. I made my way up and down along the familiar road, its yellow line curving ahead, the landscape of sage and buckwheat softening in the gloaming. I saw the moon rise.
It was cool, and I felt unburdened and relieved. I had done exactly what I wanted to do, explaining to no one, reclaiming my self. The evening opened up to me, unfolding in its all its secret majesty, and I felt an intimacy with it that I could have never experienced otherwise. Why do the doves sound so mournful? Who is on that boat that’s always out there? Which of the stories I’ve invented about myself is the true one I should live? Two cars passed on the main road, both drivers asked me if I was okay and offered me a ride. “No, thank you,” I said, “This is the best part of my day.”
I was a teeny bit scared walking up Sacate Canyon in the dark wondering about mountain lions, but most fears don’t materialize. “You are welcome,” said the night. You belong, somehow. Do not despair. I walked all the way home.