It is, according to scientifically-proven math, eleventy million degrees outside. To escape the heat, Anne and I went to the beach today.
It was just gorgeous. The air was significantly cooler at the beach than it was when we got into our car, the water was warm and clear, and though the beach wasn’t particularly crowded (it is the middle of the week in September, after all), we were around a number of families with small children who were too young for school.
I watched a dad walk down to the water with his son, who I figured was about 4 — the same age Nolan was when I entered his life. They wore matching hats, with wide brims and long black cords that went underneath their chins. The hats were the same size, as if they had been in a store and the little boy wanted to have a hat just like his dad’s. They held hands and walked slowly and carefully into the edge of the sea. When waves came in, the father picked up his laughing son by his hands and carried him over the frothing water. I watched them, and remembered doing something very similar with my boys, when they were that small, almost 20 years ago.
We sat on our towels and I read a book — Carter Beats the Devil — that I’ve owned for years but never started. It held my attention so magnificently and perfectly, the hours of 2013 passed around me at the beach while my imagination was transported to the early 1920s in San Francisco. It took the laughter of a nearby child to break me out, and bring me back into the present.
A little boy, probably about 6, was with his mom and dad in the surf. His dad was throwing him up in the air and catching him, while his mom took pictures with her smartphone. A few times, the dad caught him and fell back into the water, splashing his mom who pretended to be more concerned about her phone than she was joyful that they were all together at the beach.
I watched them play, watched all the young families around us play, and I felt an overwhelming surge of emotion. I turned to Anne. “Watching these families play makes me feel a strange kind of sadness,” I said. “I think about when our kids were that age, and how their dad just worked so hard to make them feel like they should be unhappy when they were with us. I see these dads with their kids, and I hope they appreciate how lucky they are to just be a family, without a selfish monster doing everything he can to ruin the simple joy of existence for them.”
Anne was thoughtful for a moment, and then said, “I used to be really angry that I wasted six years with him, and really resentful that he took so much away from us … but we can’t do anything to change it, and we have two really great kids because I spent those years with him.”
I watched a little girl with chubby little legs ungracefully chase the receding tide down the shining sand, then run as fast as she could away from it as it came back in, right into her mother’s arms.
“Our lives are a tapestry, right?” I said, thinking about one of my favorite episodes of Next Generation, “and if we pluck even a single thread, the whole thing unravels.”
I paused for a moment, and continued. “I love our lives, and I love the relationships we have with our kids. I’m so proud of the young men they are, and watching them level up into fully-functioning adults, especially knowing how much they suffered because of their biological father, has been one of the greatest joys of my life.
“I know that the life we have now is a tapestry woven from a lot of threads, many of them very, very painful … but I wouldn’t change anything about our lives together because I love the life we have. I love the life we’ve created for our family.”
I closed my book, and looked out into the ocean. Anne was quiet. I looked to the horizon and thought about how, to that vast expanse of water and motion, I am as insignificant as a single grain of sand on the beach. Then I thought about how, in my children’s lives, I have been as significant as the moon is to the tide.
I walked down the beach, and put my feet into the water.