Her sister drove her to the beach and helped her out of the car and rolled out a towel, where the pair sat down.
“It’s like I’m an old person and you wheeled me out of the nursing home to come sit here and feel like I have some kind of real connection to the world,” she said, projecting a scowl out over the twinkling, playfully lapping waves. She batted down her ferociously messy hair as a small gust of wind passed through.
“Come on, you have a broken leg,” her sister responded. “I’m just trying to get you out of the house. Like, stop you from always being in bed on your computer.”
Pulling her wild hair back into a knot, she let out a loud snort. She watched a seagull bobbing on the water and marveled at the way they tuck in their wings and turn their torsos (are bird bodies called torsos?) into little perfect boat-hulls, then just bob along, staying afloat not because of the resistance they put up against the water’s swells and waves but just by tucking in and letting the waves carry their little white-and-grey bodies.
She sighed. “Yeah, I guess.” Twisting the ring on her index finger, she looked back at the road, then forward to the water, and said, “You know how you feel so much more connected to a place when you’re actually in it, like, with your feet and your hands and you’re breathing its air, instead of being in a car, or a bus or something?”
Her sister nodded. “Yeah.” She hoped her sister actually felt it.
“I think I just feel like I’m here but I can’t fully be here, you know, like, to be able to run in the woods and have the air smell like pine and lake and taste cold and to feel the ground being soft and things like that. It’s so much harder to connect to a place with the windows shut.
“And, to be honest, I think most of the problem is that it’s hard to not feel a little closed off all the time. Some people complain about the fact that taking a picture of a moment ruins the moment, but I think sometimes I feel like I’m trying to take a picture of everything I see or feel, like I’ll be out with friends and think about how I’m going to remember the night later, or I’ll be looking at a skyline or an ocean and just be trying to think of how I’ll tell people about the experience later or how it’s gonna, like, expand me as a person or something. And that’s not even to mention the times I’ve been looking at something incredible and thinking, ‘Hmm, what’s for dinner?’ or deciding what I’m gonna say when I text someone back or stupid things like that. Somehow it’s hardto actually just be somewhere, a lot of the time.”
Her sister didn’t say anything at first. They both watched a seagull take off from the surface of the water. Finally, her sister spoke. “Why is it always so cold when we go to the beach?” It was true. Both girls were wearing sweatpants and burrowed in sweatshirts as they sat and looked out at a clear sky and shining, bouncing waves that could have well been on a California postcard. Alas, these were the Great Lakes. Her sister’s fingertips peeked out of their sweatshirt-sleeve burrows to check the temperature on her phone. “It’s fifty-eight,” she announced.
“We’ve been doing this forever, though,” she said, “going to the beach when it’s cold out, I mean. Like when we were little kids and literally didn’t know any better, like, what warm beaches were or anything. Fifty-degree water on a seventy-degree day was some kind of paradise oasis we could float in all day while Mom or Dad sat onshore and marveled at our complete inability to notice our own blue lips and shivering. I guess I never even realized it until I went to school in New York that my internal thermometer is a messed up piece of shit.” She was laughing a little now. Her sister chuckled too.
“Remember the day we swam behind the Pancake House for like, four hours because we found that giant stick, but came home and had no idea why we were so itchy, and it must have been something about the water near all the industry and shops or some sort of bug or something but we kept pleading to go back because we left that big stick, and he, or it or whatever, needed us?”
“Remember trying to get the sand off of our butts when we got out of swimsuits at night?”
“Yeah, man, those were the worst times, oof…”
That night, the sisters sat in front of the TV at home and tried to pick the sand out of the toe of her cast. When the cast got cut off, though, several months later, little grains of that afternoon were still pressed into her foot under the wrap and plaster, dark and solid amidst the white, soggy dead skin peeling off her foot. She remembered that afternoon on the beach.