To Rise on Some Other Shore
When I was ten, I came home to our Shelter Island cottage on a summer’s afternoon to find my parents gone and fifty dollars in cash on the dining room table. They had run out on an errand, and the cash was simply what they’d taken out of the bank earlier, and left there. But I was instantly convinced that they’d run away from me, and the money was a sort of starter kit for my continued survival. At that age, what did I know about how far fifty dollars would take me?
When my parents returned and I fell into their arms, weeping in frantic relief, they were, as you’d expect, stunned and horrified that I’d had such a thought.
It was always in me, for as long as I can remember, that abject fear of abandonment and loss. Of impending doom. Of incalculable pain to come.
Four decades later, I sat in the sand on a North Haven shore, tucked into my jacket against the autumn chill, and watched the modest waves of the bay do a miniature imitation of their ocean brethren. I don’t know how long I watched. Certainly long enough for my hound to prance out of the scrub between trees and sand with a deer’s partially decayed foreleg in his teeth. He beamed at me around his prize.
“Get that out of here,” I commanded, and he grudgingly took back the limb to where he’d found it. And, not for the first time, I was grateful he wasn’t a kissy dog. The things he ate…
When I looked back to the water’s edge I saw wet sand. The tide was receding. To where, I wondered?
To Gardiner’s Bay. The answer drifted into my head with certainty. To Gardiner’s Bay, and from there to the ocean deeps, to rise on some other shore.
My image of the ocean’s progress around the planet, seeing it, feeling it, filled me with something like joy. Why was it not that way when people left?
If that moment of revelation, of virtually experiencing where the tide went when it left my shore, had made me happy, then why could I not feel the same happiness when someone left — to imagine their journey, their wanderings, with the same pleasure as the tide’s migration around the globe? Instead, when someone leaves, I’m reduced to anxious questions, asked aloud or not: “Where you goin’? When will you be back?” A lurking fear that this time there’ll be no return.
The tide would, of course, wash in again later. Predictably and precisely on time. It wasn’t something you had to take on faith, like people coming back.
There’s a comfort in the cycles of the universe. The movement of the stars in the night sky. The shifting of the seasons. The way the deers’ coats turn a dark lavender in preparation for winter. The way life perseveres in the face of death. It had all been happening for millennia, just like the return of the tide.
But people… not so dependable.
My hound was like the tide. There was a thrashing in the underbrush, and his white form bounded toward me. He came back to me, as the waters would if I sat there long enough.
This time he bore a stick in his grinning mouth, which I tossed into the water for him, always happy to oblige, always pleased to please him.
He splashed in after it, a huge, arctic beast. He swam effortlessly, despite his mass and all that thick, protective fur. When I was gathered with friends on the beach, he’d slip into the water and swim for a bit, then come to me, soaked and content, to make sure I was still there. A few moments later he would go back into the bay, always entering in a different place, as though a new adventure might be there. I once counted his back-and-forths from the water at somewhere around forty brief dips in three hours.
But there was one time in deep winter when he’d tried to swim far out to a tiny iceberg that floated on the bay, and it was all I could do, frantically calling to him, to convince him to swim to shore and leave it to its drift. He did, in the end, obey my desperation, and abandon his floating target.
Some day he would leave me, leave this earth. I hoped it was impossibly far, far away. But this day he swam unerringly to the stick, secured it in his mighty jaws, and brought himself around to return to me.