Do not expect warm, beachy weather in Stinson during the summertime. If you show up here in July wearing shorts and a tank top, you will (A) freeze and (B) look seriously touristy doing it. As I’ve mentioned before, living in the Bay Area requires an all-season closet. Everything is worn all the time. The weather, like much of our environment here, is fluid. So, when we returned from the beach we shed our t-shirts, bathed and bundled up in cozy sweaters, scarves, jeans, and mittens for me. Then, leaving behind our cabin, we ventured into the chill of a coastal evening, strolling down the tiny street that leads to Highway 1 and the Sand Dollar.
Day or night, Stinson Beach looks as if it sits on a backlot of some studio in Los Angeles. (Thank arachnid it doesn’t!) It reminds me of the small TV towns in shows like Little House on the Prairie and The Andy Griffith Show. Nearly everyone roaming the streets appears plucked from central casting, from clothing to persona. Comfortable. Casual. Laid back. Relaxed. Carefree. And kind. I haven’t met a single person here who has been anything but extraordinarily approachable and kind. The expectation is that everyone should be that way. If a person isn’t, they are begrudgingly tolerated and swiftly moved along.
As the boys and I walked to dinner, stopping at the wee playground to climb a bit more, we ran into the couple staying in the cabin next door, the lady who runs one of the shops on Highway 1 who recalled meeting the boys a few months ago, and another couple we met on the beach.
Hello, again…is a phrase you hear often in this hamlet.
Upon arrival at the Sand Dollar I felt like Norm(a) in Cheers. The boys made a beeline for the back as I greeted happy, lovely, delightful faces, including Nick, my most favorite bartender ever, and nodded in gratitude to the duo at the bass and piano.
Cocoas and a fresh lime margarita were ordered as the boys and I settled in, surrounded by families and couples in the cozy dining area. Spirited conversations, laughter, and the bustle of servers moving through the swinging door to the kitchen caught my attention as I soaked in the energy of the three barges that now serve as the evening gathering place for Stinson Beach.
The drinks were served, and the boys dug into their whipped cream to get to the cocoa underneath. I glanced up and caught the eyes of a man. My heart stopped. It may have even left my body for a beat or ten. Or glowed so blindingly bright I could no longer see it. The sensation was so unexpected, I was taken aback, left shaken. Stunned, really. The thumping in my chest confirmed that my heart was still there, but the rest of me was a little numb.
I’ve encountered this man before and expected to see him that evening. In the past we’ve enjoyed great banter, laughter, and discovered that some of our favorite pursuits are shared passions. Our friendship developed swiftly and with ease. His affection for words and humor through language impressed me. When we converse we play a game with words, stringing them together to send us into laughter or shoot our minds off in an out of the blue direction. A few weeks ago he saw to it that I left the restaurant with his number and email so we could play an online game together. Just two friends exchanging digits, right?
Just two friends
I was left nearly speechless as he approached our table to say hello. I fumbled with my words and was grateful that he turned his attention to the boys, showing them how to cool their cocoa, his eyes dancing as they greeted him with delighted smiles and high-fives. My gaze was focused on the table, the mugs, my cocktail, my napkin. I tried to settle myself down, but I was both nervous and preoccupied with trying to understand why I was all a tizz.
Earlier in the week I told him of our plans to watch the meteor shower and invited him to join us on the beach. He would try, but the need to rise rested at dawn may prevent it. I was hopeful, picturing the four of us silhouetted against the black sea, heads thrown back to catch stars shot from cannons deep in space. The company of another seemed to complete the picture I had in my head. Four heads, not three.
The Tall Dude turned to him and asked if he planned to watch the stars with us. He crouched down to eye level and expressed that he had a busy morning the following day and needed to sleep. That he wanted to, but he needed to be at work very early.
My heart sank. Which to me was a clear overreaction. It’s also possible that as my heart sank, my hand rose to smack my cheek, jolting me out of the nervy state I entered when my green eyes met his blue-green ones for the first time that night. And then I said,
Did you watch any football today? My other hand smacked my other cheek. Small talk hell.
I have no idea what he said. I was too busy feeling a surge of relief knowing that I wouldn’t have to spend the evening under the stars feeling like a teenager on a date with Justin Bieber, in front of her parents. What once seemed like a fun idea morphed into something too awkward, too soon, too date-ish. Too what?
Just two friends. Me and Mr. Wild Card.
He left us to eat, something we were very excited to do. Even in my preoccupied state I savored the greens and brined pork chop. The boys were debating who got the cooler piece of sea glass, who climbed higher and who was going to see the most shooting stars as they plowed through their food. Climbing and sea air create a ravenous appetite.
The bustle of the restaurant and my buzzy state served to speed everything up. I couldn’t relax. It wasn’t an agitated state, more exhilarated with an edge that dropped precipitously into the darkness of limbo. Guests were leaving, arriving, leaning back from their tables as food was delivered, tipping back glasses of wine and clutching Shirley Temples, visiting with those around them. The bar at our back, behind a half wall, was full of locals and a few visitors sitting in such a small area that shared conversation happens regardless of the desire of the patrons. The music emanated from the upright bass and piano at a volume that blended perfectly with the voices, creating a new song that celebrated a sunny day spent on the edge of land.
This is a very romantic place, without trying to be romantic at all.
My heart was racing.
I pulled the little dude close to me and kissed the top of his fluffy blond head, breathing in the scent of sand and sea, willing my insides to center. A man approached, silver haired, naturally thin, perfectly weathered. Central casting must have sent him over as the surf-casting fisherman who watches everyone move about town, discerning the secret hopes and dreams of each who venture here and predicting if they will be realized. His eyes were set deep, amplifying the bright blue of his irises ringed in navy. One eye turned in slightly, perhaps dislodged by a fishing hook flying in the wrong direction many tides ago.
You have a beautiful family.
You are so sweet to say that. Thank you. Our eyes met, his twinkling like Santa’s on the day after Christmas. Tired, but still with fire.
I want to bring my niece over to meet your boys.
He returned with a girl about 5, chocolate pigtails, almond eyes, tiramisu skin. Sweet all the way around. The boys greeted her and verbally scooped her up for a ride through their day. The man peppered me with a few questions before this one:
Do you live here?
No. But one day, perhaps.
To live with Mr. Wild Card? (He knew him by name.)
I looked at him as if he had just said, You have nice breasts. Mind if I squeeze them?
I spit out, Not to my knowledge!
The score to that clumsy line was my nervous laughter. Had Rod Serling, or Justin Theroux portraying Rod Serling (casting perfection), walked through the swinging kitchen door in his suit, eyes squinting at an unseen audience saying, You’re traveling into another dimension, one of shadows and substance, of things and ideas, wherein resides a redhead whirling amidst the signs, bungling their dissection – the dimension of imagination – an area we call The Twilight Zone, I would have only flinched because I was still flustered by the man’s question.
The rest of my conversation with him is a blur now. His words dispatched my imagination off on a hypersonic gallop through the next few years, culminating with Mr. Wild Card in a short sleeved, cream colored shirt smiling at me, from fifteen feet away. His gaze familiar, full of contentment.
I snapped back to reality feeling the need to leave.
We paid the check, bid farewell to those at the tables to our right and left, and made our way through the crowded bar area. I stopped to say good night to a friend and was soon joined by Mr. Wild Card. As I moved to leave, he reached out to hug me. I failed to remain present. I didn’t feel his arms, or his chest. I don’t know where I put my head. Did I squeeze? Barely touch? Don’t know. It felt a little intimate. Too big. Too soon. To unexpected. I’m a hugger! I never have this issue.
I held back on my hug. I was afraid.
Our connection had seemed so easy and satisfying, but now it felt awkward, sniffing of adolescent shyness. But I’m not shy. And neither is he.
Was it all in my imagination?
I needed air.
The porch was empty, the street quiet. The lights glowed with a ring of mist around them. The boys balanced on logs that lined the shallow parking area bordering Highway 1, scampering north, than south, falling off every few feet. The sky was clear, the wind asleep. I pulled on my mittens and followed their lead as we made our way back to the cabin.
The boys changed into PJs and valiantly tried to keep their eyes closed as I prepared our bag for the beach. Had they not spent six hours in a constant state of exploration, sleep would have eluded them, but soon their breathing was deep, their souls off on a dreamy journey.
I crawled into bed next to the little dude. Seconds later, it felt like 3, the alarm went off. Time to make the cocoa.
With eyes rubbed and hands, head and feet bundled, we carried thermoses and sleeping bags to the beach. The shh shh of the little dude’s snow suit as he walked down the lane the only sound besides the tumbling over of distant waves; one head lamp and one iPhone flashlight app lit our way. We walked past the showers and bathrooms, down the ramp and onto the sand, tossing down our gear a few feet north and right in the center of the beach.
With the lights out, the stars emerged. And then, within seconds of falling to the sand, one zoomed across the sky, right above our heads, and fizzled out over the hills of Marin. We all yelped. Then I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
I was overjoyed they got to see a shooting star. And so very grateful it was with me. Just me. We’re laying a foundation of memories that involve only the three of us. We need this time alone together to construct our new family. These special experiences, witnessing meteor showers, exploring ghost towns, laying on fallen redwoods to stare at clouds, calling out the images we see in them, all need to happen with just me. Had Mr. Wild Card joined us, the entire experience would have been altered. Not for the worse or the better, but the presence of another would have broken up the triangle, making it a square.
For the triangle to be broken, it will need to become a circle.
For two hours we laid on our backs, snuggled in sleeping bags, my arms around each dude, their little heads heavy, one on each shoulder, as we talked about the Universe and how stars are born. We tuned in to the earth, imagining that we could feel it spinning, and pondered the notion that we are on a ball floating in space. The sky is not just up there, it’s everywhere. We pictured the frenzy of animal activity on Mt. Tam, and watched the wave of white foam that emerged from total darkness as each wave folded on itself, coming ashore.
The tally at 3:30AM was nine shooting stars, two fireballs, one cruise ship, a single black shape that had me reaching for my ‘flashlight’, not another soul, numerous cups of hot cocoa downed, countless kisses given, several sighs of pure contentment, and three blissed out beings joined together for life in sea dampened sleeping bags.
On our walk back to the cabin, with the little dude leading the way, I pondered our experience at dinner. It felt as if we’d been dropped onto the stage of an improv theater in the midst of Act Two. I was a beat behind on every count. In a place that’s as comfortable to me as my own home, I felt out of balance. Again, awkward. Braces, geeky glasses and sweaty armpits would have completed the picture perfectly.
I could make no sense of the emotions, the feeling of floundering. Without warning, I sprouted two left feet, two left hands and half a brain. And one hyperactive heart.
A new day was soon to dawn. With the light would come a major shift, a gift really. Wrapped in dozens of star fish and two naked volleyball players.
Somebody had to get naked at some point here.