I’m standing at the water’s edge when the phone call comes, sand to my ankles, sinking deeper with each advance of the waves breaking on the beach. Nolan is laughing, suspended in the air, his little arms linked between Meredith and me, his feet strafing the water as it rushes past. I don’t want to answer. So I keep tracking the rhythm of the waves, the salty spray against nearby rocks. I search for another distraction, my son straining my arm as he whipsaws beside me, giddy as he’s dragged by the water flowing back out to sea.
Along the shore, a black ground beetle scampers toward a driftwood refuge, tiny barbed legs knifing it forward. But it’s wiped out by the surf before it has a chance. Seems about right.
Up the beach, Dad’s swaying on the old weathered rocking bench where I once spent countless hours, where a few years ago my parents and I had taken one last picture together. And beyond, past the sand berm at the beach’s far edge, the worn siding of my childhood home, same as it ever was. But today it feels like a memory that belongs to someone else. I’m trying to remember what I’d hoped to gain by coming back here. I told Meredith it was to let Nolan have some quality time with his grandpa, to awaken the same love of the trees and the trails that I’d found at his age. Walkie talkie hide-and-seek, plastic bow and arrows with rubber nipple tips, the whole bit. And Dad deserves some time with family again. But if I’m honest, I came for me. To escape. And right now it feels like a mistake. This is what Nolan needs, not me. I’m closer to forty than four yet I feel so much older.
I told people it was the election that broke me. But that’s not the truth. Sure, my feeds were melting down. They always are. Apocalypse now and forever, amen. No, it was the silence after that did it. The sight of everyone going about their days as if the world hadn’t ended. All those years, ceaselessly hoping to stop the inevitable.
There was no way He could win again. Not now. Not after everything that’s happened. And of course He didn’t win. Not really. We all knew it but it didn’t matter. Because apparently nothing matters. And so everyone just kept moving through their daily loops like wind-up toys, in denial, defeated or just oblivious. Nothing short of innocents being gunned down in the street could shake them, and then not even that. I don’t know. Some people said I was overreacting, which, let’s face it, doesn’t help when the problem is that no one seems to be reacting at all. Worse still were those who revealed they were actually happy about it.
Meredith said she understood. Nolan couldn’t possibly, which was for the best. At least he had an excuse.
“Take it.” Meredith reminds me of the call still ringing out against the crush of the waves. “It’s going to be good news.” But I don’t think she means it. Then again, any answer is better than no answer. The voice on the other end of the line doesn’t waste time with pleasantries.
“How soon can you get back to the hospital? Your results are here. Why don’t you come in and we’ll talk about it.”