The Day of the Tide Pool

Written By: Shauna Ryan

We spotted the ocean, at the head of the trail

Where are we going, so far away

And somebody told me that this is the place

Where everything’s better, everything’s safe

-Toad The Wet Sprocket

My father died when I was 13. The version of him I remember most was an average height man with skinny legs and a slightly rounded belly. His dirty blonde hair wasn’t thin, but wasn’t thick either. He had a mustache for as long as I knew him. The smile on his face when imitating a character from Saturday Night Live is vivid.

In winter he could be found in our home office or basement playing the guitar. I can still smell the spaghetti and sausages cooking downstairs as I knocked on the doorframe to tell him dinner was ready.

He experiments with some chords on his Gibson Les Paul and I listen.

I always regretted not asking him to teach me a few. He taught himself to play, and maybe one day I will too.

In the summers we spent endless days in Montauk at Hither Hills. One of my fondest memories is taking a trip out there in what I remember to be late summer. The crowds had gone, and we seemed to be the only people on the beach— me, my mother and father, and older sister.

We scoured for seashells and beach glass, my father watching from behind.

“Watch your step!” he says. We walk barefoot.

Staring at the ground in search of our treasures led us to an oasis in an otherwise hot, sandy earth. It wasn’t the ocean, but a tide pool—roughly 4 feet deep and 8 feet wide. Our own personal pool! They knew we were coming.

“Can we go in?” My sister enthusiastically asks.

Mom and Dad had to go over this for a minute. It is far safer than the ocean they reasoned, especially for a 7 and 11 year old. What a strange feeling it was, swimming in the middle of the sand, only a gaze from the ocean itself.

Thick brown sand squishes between my toes. My sister doggie paddles her way across the large puddle.

It isn’t long before we have exhausted the fun of our small pool. The remainder of the afternoon is spent getting covered in sand while building amateur sandcastles with bright colored plastic buckets and shovels.

My sister teaches me to add water to the sand in order to form the perfect shape.

We play until the beach offers a chill. It is a reminder that Fall is on its way to fill the east end with hoards of pumpkin pickers that crowd the highways.

“Let’s get going guys” my father remarks.

We gather our things and make our way to the parking lot where my mother attempts to remove the sand from our bodies. I climb into the back seat of our 1994 evergreen Ford Taurus.

Its plump fabric seats are itchy on my thighs.

I never minded the drive home from Montauk. I don’t remember the traffic jams or the hour long commute. I do recall my father taking Route 111 home at my request with the specific purpose of seeing the Star Gazer. I was always amazed by the large red statue planted in a field on the side of the highway.

I am 26 years old. It is the middle of winter and the sun is rising over an eerily quiet beach in Montauk, situated across from the motel my two childhood friends and I have rented for the weekend. I think I hear someone, but it is just the rustling of a tarp on a hotel roof. It has to be 30 degrees, probably colder with the wind chill. I look down at my fingers that are starting to redden, and realize I have forgotten my gloves.

Staring out at the ocean, I am transported to the day of the tide pool, and I feel warm.