There is a girl on the beach, nine or ten years old, who reminds me of myself at that age. Her hair is cut in the same pageboy, her face carries the same mixed look of seriousness and wonder. She stands in the sand at the edge of the continent and lets the water wash in over her bare feet. She curls her toes in the sand, and sinks lower into the earth as the water pulls back out into the sea.
Unbidden, a memory flashes in my mind of myself, ten years older than this girl on the beach. I think of a boy with a birthday the same as my own, and an empty room in a empty house in a crowded city that feels empty anyway. The dark wood floor is cold against my bare legs, the shirt I am wearing–his shirt–only reaching to the middle of my thighs. I can see the bruises on my legs, small and round and purple like tiny plumbs, one for each of his fingers, breadcrumbs through the forest of our lovemaking.
He is speaking to me, the fumbling greeting card words of love that he has learned from television and bad movies, but I’m not really listening. I already know that our love affair won’t be a lasting one. Already the feeling of his hands on my stomach and my legs and my breasts is fading from my memory. He is a layover on my journey to something else, and if he could read my thoughts as well as he thinks he does, he would know that his best course of action is to put on his pants and take back his shirt that I am wearing and to go find himself a woman more suited to his needs. He is oil and I am water and there will be no alchemical mixing of us tonight or in the future.
A year later, I see this boy in a store, although he doesn’t see me. He is with a beautiful woman wearing a shoulder-baring dress, hair swept up high, slim and delicate as a porcelain doll. They are looking at towels, and as the woman reaches to pull one from a shelf, I see the glint from a ring on her finger as it catches in the light.
Today, the girl turns and runs away from me across the sand along the edge of the water, daring the surf to rise up over her feet again. I slip off my shoes and go stand in her place in front of the ocean. I curl my toes into the sand, and as the water splashes cold and sudden over my feet, I remember an empty room in an empty house and an empty love affair, not even the first link in a long chain of them.
All rivers run to the ocean, and all memories do as well, collecting in a Sargasso Sea of hopes and whispers and lingering plumb-colored bruises, drifting in the thick, slow current of forever.