Eyes Open

My eyes open and I'm floating on my back in the ocean. I can instinctively tell it's the late afternoon, even though I haven't been here for a long time. “The best time on the beach,” I think to myself, closing my eyes against the initial shock of the bright blue sky. The sun is sinking on the horizon, but I can still feel its warmth on my face. As I move my arms and legs to stay afloat, I'm relaxed by the fact that the water temperature is just right for me. I can hear the water lapping at the shore, the seagulls overhead, and the laughter of unseen children on the beach. I can smell the tide and fermenting seaweed on the breeze. I can taste the salt on my lips, as having just come up from underwater and risen to the surface. After a few moments, I open my eyes again and instantly something catches the corner of my eye. The first thing I notice, the color green, is just a small speck in the distance. Intrigued, I lift my head to see a bit better, droplets of water falling from my hair back into the ocean. My feet sink below my hips as I become vertical in the water, arms waving to keep me afloat. There is someone starting to descend the stairs to the beach. Because of the distance, I can't tell who it is at first. As they continue walking towards the landing, I can see the familiar green bathing suit shorts, the white watershirt, and the faded blue baseball cap. It's my Dad. He's waving at me. He's coming from the house. I can see from the dirt on his hands that he's been working in his garden and has waited until the heat of the day subsided before coming down to the beach. He's probably already picked and chopped vegetables to prepare for dinner or has a tomato sauce on a low simmer. The house is right down the street, after all. Now that I've realized who it is, I've started swimming more aggressively, rather than the lackadaisical breaststroke I used when starting my return to shore. He's dressed for a swim, but he has historically always said the water is too cold. I keep swimming to shore and just as I'm nearing shouting distance, he is putting one foot in the water. “Geesh! How are you swimming in that cold water?” he says, using his favorite exclamation. I haven't quite gotten to the shore but I yell back, trying to keep my mouth above the surf, “It's not THAT bad!” The sun has started sinking lower in the horizon. The seagulls flying overhead cast black shadows against its bright rays, their cries announcing the end of the day. I don't see anyone else on the beach but him. When the water is shallow enough that my feet sink into the sandy ocean floor, I start running with high knees over the surf. I stumble trying to get to him faster. He's smiling as I reach him. He hasn't aged since the last day I saw him at 65 years old on this same beach. I wrap my arms around him so tightly that I can almost touch my hands together behind his back. I can feel my face against his white watershirt. He smells like sunscreen and fresh cut grass. I don't want to lift my head for fear that he might disappear. “Alright, I've put my foot in the water, do you want to come home for dinner?” he smiles as he lets go of our embrace and I am forced to lift my head. “There is nothing else I'd rather do, Dad,” I say, convinced now, that he is indeed solid and not going to evaporate in front of my eyes. He takes my hand and, as it envelopes mine, we start walking on the sand towards the stairs. Our feet leave soft footprints as we go, the crash of the waves fading with each step. We reach the landing, half buried in the sand, and my Dad steps back to let me ascend the stairs in front of him. When my foot reaches the very last step before the pavement, I can feel myself shrink in stature. My arms and legs shorten in proportion to my new body, the aches and pains of old age disappear. My long gray hair shortens into a soft, blond bob. I stare down at my hands and feet in wonder. “I'm six years old again!” I think to myself. My Dad picks me up, covered in sand and sticky with salt water and puts a beach towel around me. It's been a long day at the beach and this is our routine. I lay my head on his shoulder and close my eyes. It's safe and warm in his arms and I go limp with exhaustion, as if I've been swimming against the tide for decades. I can hear his steps on the pavement as he carries me back home. The familiar sounds and smells tell me that we're getting close to the house, even if my eyes are still closed, enjoying the rest. As we reach the house my Dad says, “All these years I've been watching you from the shore, even though you couldn't see me there, and I'm so proud of how well you swam. We're home now, let's go inside for dinner.” “I missed you, Dad,” I say, as I open my eyes and turn my head. He smiles and opens the door.


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