by James Michaelson
“The trick is finding the perfect rock,” my Grandma explained as she scoured the sand like a hawk stalking its prey. “It’s got to be flat on one side and just heavy enough, like a hacky sack.”
“How’s this?” I asked, holding a small stone above my head as if it were a trophy.
“Perfect,” my Grandma smiled as she took the rock from my hand. She stood for a second, feeling the weight of the rock in her hand. She hypnotically stared out at the painted sky, the sun being swallowed by the water like a gumdrop. She then side-armed the rock into the water. I stood, mouth agape, as the rock glided across the water. In my 6-year-old mind, everything I knew about water and the laws of physics was just shattered. I haven’t recovered since.
I am now 19, the age where childhood intersects adulthood like the ocean’s horizon smacks the sky. Gardiner’s Bay in Amagansett is my time machine. As I wander through adolescence like a fisherman lost at sea, I often transport myself back to being 6-years-old by skipping rocks at the bay. When I stand before the vast ocean, I feel small, and all my problems get put into perspective.
“What’s funny about skipping rocks,” my Grandma went on to explain, “Is that you can only tell how many bounces you get by counting the ripples your rock leaves behind.” She then scooped up a perfectly shaped stone and tossed it without hesitation.
The rock bulleted out of her hand and beamed across the water. I counted five ripples. To this day, I’ve never witnessed a better throw.
I learned how to ride my bike in the parking lot of the bay. I was a late bloomer when it came to riding bikes – I didn’t quite get the hang of it until I was nine. My Grandma would hold onto the seat from behind and jog with me as I screamed, “DO NOT LET GO!” One time though, she did let go, and before I realized what was going on, I was riding like a pro. I rode my bike out of the parking lot and down the road. I haven’t looked back since.
“I can’t do it,” I said after another failed attempt to skip a rock. “It takes practice and patience,” my Grandma reassured me. “It took me years to
perfect the throw. You’ll get it soon.”
“But I want to get it now!” I whined.
“If you were amazing at this right away, then you would never be able to look back at how good you’ve gotten,” my Grandma knelt down and wiped away my tears. “Now stop crying and keep trying!”
I’ll never forget the day I lost my bike. I had parked it outside of Astro pizza before going in for some lunch. I was 13 and in my angsty “you just don’t understand me right now” phase. My parents and I had just had a big fight about my slumping grades. They told me I wasn’t applying myself and just needed to work harder. I stormed out of the house because to me, it wasn’t a matter of working harder; my social studies teacher was out to get me. Of course my parents wouldn’t understand. After I finished my pizza, I returned outside to find my bike missing. I searched the town for hours, praying that by some divine miracle my only source of freedom would return. If only I had locked up my bike like my Grandma had been telling me for years. I walked home that afternoon fighting back tears. I wanted to cry, but I was 13, and 13-year-olds don’t cry.
“I GOT IT! I GOT IT!” I chanted after successfully skipping my first rock. “Good for you!” My Grandma gave me a big hug. “Now keep practicing. Just
because you got it doesn’t mean you can’t get better.”
Her headaches started when I was 17. Days would go by where my Grandma could barely get out of bed. Eventually, despite her initial resistance, we forced her to go to the hospital. Ignoring pain doesn’t make it go away. After two days of extensive testing, the doctor told us what was wrong. My Grandma had a tumor, the size of a small stone, next to her left temple. He told us that just because she’s sick now, doesn’t
mean she can’t get better. But we all knew the reality of the situation. After she passed, the air in my house was dry. No one spoke. I wanted to cry, but I was 17, and real men don’t cry. All that was left were regrets and “if-only’s.” If only we had taken her to the hospital sooner. If only I had been kinder to her when all she was trying to do was help. If only I could take a time machine to see her smile one more time. What’s funny about life is that you can only tell the impact you’ve had on others by counting the ripples your life leaves behind.
“Alright James, it’s time to go,” my Grandma sighed from exhaustion after hours of skipping rocks with me at the bay.
“Come on! Five more minutes!” I plead.
“Wouldn’t we all love to get five more minutes,” my Grandma chuckled as she took my hand and lead me back to the car. She couldn’t have been more right.