September, 1974, Dutchess County, New York
What would you do for love? A simple question, really, with no simple answer. Each and every person has a different response, as unique to them as are their thoughts, their DNA. Family, friends and life experiences would all play a part, certainly. But also trust, loyalty, passion and intimacy. And religion. There are as many influences on, and answers to, this question as there are stars in the universe. And every one would be right, in its own personal way.
Would you fight for love, or let it slowly sink into the deepest recesses of your being like a stone cast into this river? Would you lie for love? Would you steal for love? Would you be dishonest for love? Would you kill for love?
Is love permanent, or does it come and go like the tides in this river? Does it stay or can it be carried away like a piece of driftwood, ending up in an eddy, forever swirling in the opposite direction of life’s tides, tantalizingly close yet unreachable?
What would you do for love?
I’ve been sitting on the beach in this small cove staring at the agitated lead-colored river for hours. Its foamy whitecaps, driven by the earlier storm, have swirled, crested and fallen as far as my eyes can see. They’ve rumbled and roared as they’ve collapsed onto this glossy pebble beach, their spuming fingers reaching out as if to drag me in. The cool mid-September wind bites at the waves and tugs the gulls sideways with invisible strings like some crazed puppeteer.
The sun charges into the western skyline, slinging the last horizontal red and tangerine rays like arrows. My shadow grows longer by the minute as the shy full moon peeks above the eastern horizon as if checking to see if the sun has completed its job.
Shivering in my rain-soaked clothes, I bury both hands a little deeper into the pockets of my sweatpants seeking warmth like a burrowing animal, but it is not there.
Earlier in the afternoon, I had watched two boys up the shoreline holding on for dear life to their multicolored kites as they flapped and darted up and down in the wind, the tails desperately tried to keep the kites facing into the breeze, as effective as a broken rudder on a floundering ship. The wind on the paper drew out a slapping sound, like a hand landing flush on a cheek, and threatened to rip them apart at any moment. Now all that remains is a deserted river’s edge slowly being lit by silver moonlight as the sunset reluctantly retreats.
The elephant gray hues from the rain storm appear to be waning, giving way to a clear evening sky and a calming river. I can smell the moist air. I can taste it on my tongue as it stings my tired eyes.
A metallic blue dragonfly appears at eye level as if inspecting me. It hovers for a few seconds and then is gone in a flash as the cooling air makes my eyes tear. Wiping them with my sleeve, I close them and briefly rest. Exhaustion settles in. Even so, it is comforting to be back here where I have spent so many wonderful summer days. This beach is where, as a small child, I met the water for the first time, heard its song, experienced its magic, felt its life. It is where I learned how to love it, fear it.
Reaching into my pocket, I remove an orange plastic vial. Twisting off the lid, I pop out two purple pills, each the size of a bullet, and swallow them one after the other. It’s just another in a seemingly endless parade of anodynes I have been given over the last few years. Recapping the vial, I stuff it back into my pocket with a sigh.
Gazing back at the blackening river, I spot a maroon tug highlighted by both the rising moon and the last straggling rays of sunlight. It is thrusting a corroded barge through the water, seemingly making little progress, appearing almost still in the water, despite the waves clawing at the front. From where I sit now, it seems as if I have always been like that barge, constantly pushing ahead but seemingly getting nowhere. Living can be like that.
That all will change tomorrow.
Looking up, I see the blinking lights of a jet passing silently overhead leaving a fluffy white contrail as soft as love in the moonlit sky. Life goes on for others.
Gazing back at the now gentle, frothy waves kissing the beach, I realize that there has only always been this. Water. My one constant source of enjoyment and love has been water. To be near it, to stare at it, dip my toes into it, jump into it. It was my home.
And my real passion was swimming. As a kid, I would look for any excuse to steal away to a cool forest lake or to this tempting river to jump in and swim. It seems at times that I spent most of my early years wet. I absolutely loved it, especially in the early morning, as the sun rises, before the world comes alive. There is something you can’t describe about being in water with an untroubled surface, smooth as glass, surrounded by total quiet, as a new sun rises, full of promise, warming your face. You have to experience it, spend time with it, get to know it; only then can you come to love it.
That love was taken from me, stolen in my youth in an instant. It has been years since I have really enjoyed the water, and with good reason, but tonight it is once again flirting with me, enticing me. It beckons me like a lost love, I can feel its sultry pull. Sometimes, against all common sense, it is difficult to say no to love. Once it has penetrated and grabbed your heart, it never really ever releases you.
A lone seagull floats by screeching like a rusted hinge, before gliding further down the river as I rise to stand. To the north, a lonely lighthouse blinks its cautionary beacon. Looking at the water again, it’s almost low tide.
A meteor streaks across the ebony sky, dissolving into darkness. It’s time.