It was the first day of March and we’d decided to go to the beach. By the time we made the decision, got ready, drove down, and settled onto the sand, the sun had taken on a golden hue and slipped from the top of the sky. It took the heat down with it, but I didn’t mind.
Out in the open water, the tops of the waves were lit with gold. Eyes on the horizon, I waded in and then dove under, surfacing with a shriek of shock and joy. The wind clawed through the wet tangles of my hair as I fought my way back to shore and joined my friend where he was laying, his little brown towel looking especially small next to my oversized blue one.
I rolled onto my side, shivering from the cold and giggling for no apparent reason, swells of laughter rising up out of me and crashing down on both of us. I knew I sounded crazy but I didn’t care; he was used to me and I was used to that. His phone lay between our heads, songs from Red mingling with the sound of water slapping the shore and the waves of laughter that wouldn’t stop coming. I was happy.
As the sun got lower, the wind got higher, and we went back to the car so I could put on dry clothes. Then we made our way over to the jetty, my forehead aching from a freak collision with a parking meter that happened on the way over. At the pace we’d been walking, if my friend hadn’t shot out his arm at the right moment I would’ve broken my entire face instead of merely giving myself a black eye. These kinds of friends are important to have, especially for someone like me.
The two of us were alone on the jetty and we hopped from rock to rock, weaving a quick course across the sharp, uneven surfaces. Given our inappropriate footwear, it was miraculous that I only twisted my ankle once. We stopped halfway across the jetty and climbed down to the water’s edge to take pictures with my new camera lenses. There were a few pelicans circling above, and one of them made a sudden dive into the water right in front of us. It was a graceful dive, performed with a lazy ease, and I spent the next fifteen minutes trying to catch another one on film, begging the seagulls to dive as I followed them with my camera. They turned out to be entirely uncooperative, and we soon left our algae covered rock to wander down to the end of the jetty, where we sat on the base of a fog signal and watched the sun sink lower.
It was on the way back that the pelicans began to dive. Swift, tight circles, a sudden closing of wings and then a plummet, crashing into the water and sending up a spray in all directions. There were about thirty of them now, back towards the middle of the jetty. They seemed to be taking turns diving, surfacing, lifting into the air again. Head and ankle injuries forgotten, we leaped back across the rocks and down the still-empty jetty until they were right in front of us, their numbers growing by ten, twenty at a time, hundreds emerging from thin air. They began to rocket into the water in groups, a sort of beautiful, chaotic, unsynchronized dance. The sun sat right on the surface of the water, a dark gold ball silhouetting the hundreds of winged shapes dancing and diving through the sky.
And then I wasn’t there anymore, wasn’t seeing what was in front of me. I hadn’t realized how fully I’d been enjoying myself all day, spending hour after hour without worrying, without overthinking, being exactly there and only there, until suddenly I wasn’t. My mind had jumped sharply away from the birds and landed on a thought I didn’t want to think. Here we were, my friend and I, with this amazing thing happening right before our eyes, sharing this with no one but each other. And here I was, thinking about how much more this would mean to me to be here with someone I was in love with. My heart dropped, engulfed by this sudden sadness borne from a void I had forgotten existed. Only guilt overshadowed the sadness. Guilt, because in the entire course of our friendship I had never before, not once, not ever, wished that he were someone else, someone that meant anything more to me than he already did. It didn’t matter that that someone else didn’t exist for me anymore; that made it even worse. I felt myself begin to panic, to slip further from that moment and deeper into the scar of darkness I had just reopened. I knew the birds were there somewhere but I couldn’t find my way back to them. My heart was beating too quickly. I didn’t have my anxiety pills with me, I didn’t carry them around anymore, I didn’t need to, I thought I didn’t need to. I needed to be alone, how could I be alone, where could I go, how could I explain this?
And then it was gone. I could see and I could breathe. I felt my friend there beside me, a few rocks away. I felt him in the comfortable silence between us, and I felt the infinitesimal threads that tied us together, created the connection between us. They’d saved me, had maybe been saving me all along. I held onto them with everything I had. Here was a relationship that didn’t revolve around attraction, that didn’t have to fit into any confines or standards, that wasn’t forced into the sharp-edged box of my own expectations. A relationship that existed simply because it could. With him, I never wasted a single second worrying whether this is what it’s supposed to be like, how it’s supposed to feel. Never having to worry about how I looked or acted, never being judged. This was a friendship, and one of the best I’d ever had. And wasn’t that, in a way, even better than being in love? Wasn’t it better to make memories with someone whose relationship wouldn’t expire with a loss of attraction, a falling out of lust or love? I’d never had a say about falling out of love, but in my experience, you don’t fall out of friendship unless you let it happen, unless you stop trying, unless you stop caring. And I wasn’t about to do that. I couldn’t even think about losing this, this friendship that was more pure and perfect than I ever gave it credit for. Isn’t it better to share something amazing like this with a friend? I decided right then that yes, it was. He made me happy just by being there, and I was so glad that he was there. Of course, I never said a single thing about it to him.
Instead, I looked around and saw that we were no longer alone on the jetty. There were small groups of people making their way across the rocks in the dim twilight. Without a word, we both started moving back toward the shore. A fisherman stood near the base of the jetty, his line bobbing in the water. We approached him sideways, trying to look down at our footing while still watching the birds. He watched us with amusement.
“It’s really something, isn’t it?” he asked. We both agreed that yes, this was certainly something.
“Happens at sunset every night, this time of year. Pretty amazing.” He nodded, agreeing with himself, and then he said something else and my friend responded. I could hear them chatting back and forth but I’d stopped listening. I was watching the very last of the pelicans dive, surface, and then come to rest on top of the water, black shapes against the dark rainbow of the skyline. I watched until every single bird was out of the air.
We said goodbye to the fisherman and made our way off the rocks, down into the sand, away from the birds and the jetty and the ocean. But that quiet awe that had permeated the air stayed with me long after the color was gone from the sky, after we got into the car and drove away from the beach, blasting music to fill the silence, slowly diluting the magic. The rest of the night was filled with more loud music, and boba, and deli news pizza, and homemade jello shots in ice cube trays. Of other people and other thoughts and other things.
But regardless of what happened next, and what’s happened since, I like to think that I left those moments there on the jetty, hidden in the cracks between the rocks at our feet, and if I were to go back I could find them, pick them up, hold them. See it all there in front of me. The fisherman with his line in the sea, the pelicans resting on the surface, the two of us staring out at the place where the sun had been right before it sunk. When I wasn’t thinking about anything but what was in front of me and I didn’t have to look to know he was there.
A year later, I look at the thin, spidery thread in my hand, shimmering silver where it catches the light. It hums with its own kind of electricity, still alive but barely. Warm on my skin like the embers of a dead flame. I hold this single thread loosely, willing it to spool back into my palm, and I think about that day on the jetty, those moments hidden in the cracks between the rocks, and how I still don’t wish I’d been there with anyone but my friend, that friend, him.