Happy Monthiversary to Me
seeking the familiar at the beach
Today, as I write this, I’ve been in New York for exactly a month.
My line of the month has been: “Everything feels new”. Someone, anyone asks me how I’m doing, how I like my neighborhood, how my classes are going, and the answer is, always: “Everything still feels new.” Which was the point of the move, after all. Nothing in San Francisco felt new any more: even the new things were layered on top of the old things and the feeling that comes with seeing old get replaced with new was getting old, too. But it’s an odd feeling, for nothing to feel familiar quite yet. A month in, I’m seeking out the familiar in the unfamiliar.
I’ve been to the beach three times since getting here.
The first time, the waves rocked me and knocked me off my feet. The second time, the waves tampered down, but still threw me off balance. The third time, I ran into the waves and they carried me as I floated.
The first time, the beach was crowded as could be. I had never seen a beach so full. The sand was covered with colored umbrellas, tents, anything that would throw some shade and block some sun. The beach was covered in bodies clad in all combinations of beach wear you could imagine. Everyone tucked in close to one another, in this corner of the beach. I watched a group of girls set up their pop up shade tent so close to their neighbors that the polls actually crossed and interlocked. From my spot on the sand, I could no longer see the water past the tents and parasols and people.
The second time, the beach was less crowded, but still we found ourselves alongside groups of beach goers with their parasols and speakers and assortments of chairs and towels and all the rest. We set up behind the life guard tower, we set up our own shade tent, only to have the wind knock it down. We gave up on putting it back up after the second attempt.
The third time, the beach was empty. It was after Labor Day now, so there was no longer a lifeguard on duty–nor even a lifeguard tower left to guard life from.
The first time, the sun was hot hot hot, the air humid humid humid. The second time, the heat broke when the clouds came in mid day and it drizzled, briefly. The third time, it was overcast and grey, cooler now that it was September.
The first time, the beach felt like no beach I had ever been to before. I didn’t know it was possible to have culture shock over a strip of sand, but it is. I didn’t know you could feel that you were looking out East instead of out West, but you can. The second time, the beach still felt new, but it no longer felt brand new. I recognized the white lifeguard towers and had been to the hot dog stand, at least. By the third time, the beach had begun to feel more familiar, in two convergent ways: The beach was more familiar because I had been before, and now the beach looked more like beaches I had been to before.
And even though the sky was cloudy and the water was colder this third time, I was giddy to be at the beach. Giddy to float in the waves, alone. Giddy to have the beach to ourselves. Really, I was giddy to find a sense of familiarity there. Relieved, maybe. Giddy to feel giddy, even. It’s not yet my beach, not the beach I know by heart. But it’s now a beach I know. It’s a beach I can get to know.
And then something unfamiliar happened. A pod of dolphins swam by. They were out of place there, as I was. They swam and circled in front of us, in the waves we had just swam in. We stopped to stare for a long while. They kept coming back, it seemed. On the way home, we couldn’t stop repeating it: “Today was the best beach day.”
Today, as I write this, it’s is the first day of fall. According to the lunar calendar, at least. According to the weather and everyone’s response to it, the first day of fall was last Friday. I stepped out of the house that morning for coffee in a t-shirt, and for the first time my bare arms were hit full force with the phrase: “the air feels crisp”. The air lost the humid warmth and weight that had been hanging over the last few weeks. Fall is unfamiliar to me: just another thing we don’t have in San Francisco.
I doubt there’s another beach day in store. Or at least not another swim. But then again, I’m used to beach days that don’t entail swimming. That’s familiar to me.