Westwind

Castles Made of Sand

Matt Creem

I WOKE UP to the honking of the horn and my head was splitting and as soon as I opened my eyes I gasped for air like a dying corpse.  Frank Sinatra once said he felt bad for people who didn’t drink because when they wake up in the morning it is as good as they are going to feel all day.

I sat in my bed trying to make sense of what last night was and what day it led me to.  I’m not sure why I told Noah to come by my apartment at ten in the morning.  Noah was my best friend and we were in college and on that morning we drove up to the coastal town of Monterey, California from Hermosa Beach to visit my mother.

This is the story of our trip.

 

I went over to the window of my apartment and sure enough Noah was there outside leaning against his car.  Noah had been my best friend since high school and we were about to enter our third year of UCLA together after he transferred from community college.

When I told him I would be driving up the coast to Monterey he jumped at the opportunity for another road trip.  We decided to make a weekend out of it and stay until Sunday—I had to be back the following week to meet a deadline for my writing workshop.

I don’t know why, but Noah loved the idea of road trips when in actuality all you do is sit in a car staring at nothing for five hours while the smell of cow shit floods into your nostrils.

“Hold on,” I yelled out the window, “I’ll be right there.”

When he offered to drive, I turned him down.  He had driven me around for the past year after I lost my license and it was time I’d start returning the favor.

Besides, this was my trip; he was just crazy enough to tag along.

We climbed into my Jetta stained with bird excrement and silver gloss paint.

“How you feeling’?”  Noah asked.  I turned and looked at him and he looked at me and I could only think of one answer.

“Like shit,” I started the car and turned to look as I backed out of the driveway.  Noah continued to stare at me.

“You know what I mean,” I glanced at him keeping my eyes on the road.

“I’m fine.”

 

IT WAS OUR LAST NIGHT IN EUROPE when I told Noah about my trip to Monterey.  We were spending the night in Munich and I had just turned twenty-one a week before in Rome.  We had been traveling together for a month and when we arrived in Munich, we visited Noah’s uncle and aunt who lived in a quiet suburban neighborhood that bordered the city.

Although Noah and his dad moved to Hermosa Beach around the same time I had moved from Massachusetts, the rest of Noah’s family remained in Germany.  His mom was Italian and lived in India and in over a span of three years, Noah had lived in three different countries.

But it wasn’t his ability to speak four languages nor his unusual background that separated him from most people—it was his willingness to do the things no one else would.  Noah never had any hesitation about jumping of a cliff or buying a hooker in Amsterdam.  He had no hesitation about living.

After a delicious home cooked meal at Noah’s uncle’s house that consisted of sausages and beer and ice cream from Holland, we said our goodbyes and left for the city.

We were staying at a hostel called the Wombat where we met an Australian kid named Henry and a Canadian guy named Mark.  The room we stayed in had eight other beds and Noah and I shared a bunk.

No one was in the room as we packed our backpacks one last time for our train ride the next morning.  We both knew we would be too drunk later that night, so we decided to get the packing out of the way early.

“I have to go up to Monterey before school,” I told him.  Noah was above me on his bunk.

“Why?”

“To take care of some stuff.”

Noah understood what I meant and he jumped down onto the floor in front of me.

“I’ll come.”

“You don’t have to.”

“Fuck that, we’ll make it a road trip!”

I laughed and I zipped up my backpack, I was finally ready to go.

We went downstairs to the bar and we sat on some stools and ordered two steins each.

Two girls walked up to us and sat down and ordered beer as well.  We started talking and they were from Chicago.

The rest of the night was a blur.

I remember walking through the streets of Munich at dusk with bottles in both my pockets and hands and we were singing songs and telling jokes.

At one point we came to a small fountain in the center of a plaza.  The fountain glowed under the night sky and I remember the circular stones that sat in the black water.  As we jumped from one stone to the next, they lit up—like electric lily pads sparking the synapses of the water current, illuminating the incandescent pond.

Signs all around us read in some language that was foreign to me and as I spun around, the signs and the pond and the castles and cathedrals and the night all became connected through the exciting blurred stream of lights traveling at the speed of sound.

The city was electric magic.

There was an American bar in the center of the city so we decided to go there first.  When we walked in we immediately noticed a karaoke set up with a live guitarist and two microphones.  Noah and I jumped on stage immediately and we asked the guitarist to play some classic.  We proceeded to try and sing along but our drunken state made it especially difficult.

We didn’t care though.

We continued to yell and shout and dance like idiots throughout the whole song.  Afterwards the German audience looked at us with a look of befuddlement and Noah took off his pants to moon the crowd.

I don’t remember much after the American Bar.

Noah told me later that we eventually made it back to the hostel and once we made it back to the hostel we were thrown out.  Although we were both drunk, I was at fault and we had no other choice but to sleep in the street.

It was somewhere between night and morning and we walked for an hour and Noah didn’t say a word to me.  We finally found a small square surrounded by dark, closed shops and we laid down our bags to use as pillows.  The streets smelt like old meat and smoke and trash and the air outside was moist.  I couldn’t fall asleep and when I looked over at Noah I saw he was still awake as well.

“I’m sorry.”

Noah didn’t respond to me and he remained still like the shops and hotels around us.  He laid down on the damp concrete with his head rested on his backpack and after a couple of minutes he decided to respond.

“It’s alright.  Let’s just go to sleep.”

 

MY FRIENDS BACK IN BOSTON couldn’t believe that I would actually be living in Hermosa Beach when I told them I was moving, but to be honest there was nothing special about driving through the city on an early September morning drowning in traffic and fog.

I drove down Highland, which was three blocks up from the ocean, and the glooming marine layer was just beginning to burn off, revealing the vast sea of sand and the myriad of palm trees.  The air was cool but the sun was hot.

Before we began our journey up the Pacific Coast Highway, I pulled into the gas station to refuel.

“I need some coffee,” and so did Noah.  As I got out of the car to situate the gas pump, Noah went into the AMPM.  After I paid for my Arizona Iced Tea and microwavable bean and cheese burrito with the five bucks Noah gave me for gas, I stepped outside to breath in some fresh air.  The air in El Porto was not the freshest air and as I inhaled a pungent aroma seeped into my nostrils with the scent of burritos, surf wax, and sea salt.

“Do you have any CD’s?”

We were well on our way driving on Vista Del Mar alongside the ocean.  Noah was going through my glove box searching for CD’s while I was struggling to eat my floppy foot long piping hot burrito.

“I don’t know what’s in there,” I answered with a mouthful of beans and tortilla that I washed down with some cool iced tea.

“It’s all Christmas music, what the hell?”

“It’s my dad’s probably, I don’t know.”

“Fuck it, radio will have to do then.”

It was around eight o’clock and the marine layer had fully disappeared and outside my window I could see the bikers in spandex cruising along the bike path with the early birds aimlessly floating along the break line anxiously waiting for the no show set.

After eating half of my burrito and a couple of sips of coffee I was finally able to build up the strength to talk, “why did you have to beep this morning?”

“To wake you up.”

“Why didn’t you just call me?”

“Because you always turn off your phone and hide it when you’re blacked out.”

“Oh yeah.”

There was a long pause of silence but it was a comfortable silence and the sea to our left glittered in the rising sun like millions of flashing cameras.  I rolled down my window and the wind on my face was cold yet warm.  We drove onto the 405 North and just as I prepared to accelerate, we hit traffic.

“Figures, the one day we drive up the coast we can’t even see anything.”

I looked out the window and I saw what Noah was referring to as the cloud of white fog swallowed our car.

“How’s your story coming?”

I drove slowly because of the hardened visibility and I waited a couple of minutes before answering Noah’s question.

“I don’t really have anything.  I have nothing to write about, it sucks.”

“Write about me, I’m interesting.”

An hour or so passed and Noah was asleep and I continued to fight my way through the fog.  The 101 finally opened up and for a while I was the only car on the road, or at least it seemed that way due to the dense blanket of white.

It was quiet for a long time.

The radio had been playing for a little while but I decided to listen to the silence instead.  I rolled down my window and the moist air blasted my face.

The fog eventually broke apart revealing nothing but the bluest of skies and the ocean to the left.  We were in Santa Barbara and it was beautiful.

I kept my window down and I could feel the long lost heat from the sun warming my face.  I turned the radio back on and the blaring vocals of John Fogerty screamed out into the wind.  The water was to my immediate left and a small stretch of sand was the only separation between the blue waters and my car.

Noah woke up and looked around with a dazed look.

“Where are we?  Santa Barbara?”

“Yeah.”

“Damn, how much longer then?”

“We still have around five hours.”

“Fuck, I’m not gonna make it.”

“You wanted to come.”

“Let’s get some beers at least.”

“No, I just wanna get there.”

Countless weathered beach houses flashed past the window and the sea salt collected onto my side view mirror.  The freeway led us back inland and the ocean disappeared from our sight.  We started to head northeast towards San Luis Obispo and it was around noontime and the sun was high in the sky.

The freeway pavement cut through the sea of rolling green hills where small brown trees were scattered randomly throughout.  Trees without leaves with twisted branches hovering over their own shade.

“I need a girlfriend dude,” I looked over at Noah who abruptly broke the silence and he watched the road in front, “what about Brooke?  I wanna make Brooke my girlfriend.”

The green hills stretched as far as I could see like an incessant wave frozen in its path across the earth.  Clouds shifted in the sky like works of a higher power and the air was fresh and clean.

“Who was your last girlfriend?”  Noah asked.

“Seriously?”

“What?  Why are you laughing?”

“Katie, I guess.”

“Well, that lasted.”

“Yeah.  I just can’t be with someone for that long, like, longer than a month.  I get over it.”

“I know, same,” signs for Highway 1 began to appear and before long we were headed back to the ocean, “but it would be pretty sweet to have a hot girlfriend.”

“Yeah.”

The steering wheel beneath my hands was still greasy from the gas station burrito and the smell of sea salt entered the car once again.

“You and Katie dude, that must have been funny,” Noah interjected.

“Why would that be funny?”

“I don’t know, I guess the idea of you having a girlfriend is pretty funny.”

“I never told her I loved her or anything.  I hate when couples say that stuff, especially in high school.”

“No, you know what I hate? PDA.  Mike and Kendall dude, I couldn’t stand it.”

The road ahead of me rapidly disappeared underneath us and the sky was still and a thought then occurred to me.

“Dude, fuck that, you don’t want a girlfriend,” I objected, “you won’t have any funny stories.  No one wants to hear about you having sex with your hot girlfriend every night.”

“Yeah, that’s true.  It’s only funny hooking up with random chicks.”

“Don’t be that guy who doesn’t have any stories.”

“Like Graham.”

“Yeah, exactly.”

 

I REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME I knew that I loved Katie.

I was a freshman in high school and it was in the late spring when school was just ending and the cool weather was turning into a thick hotness.  I was always fond of the late spring in New England because the air would be perfect and there was excitement for the coming of summer.

I remember it was a Friday evening and there were only two more weeks left and lacrosse practice had just ended.  I saw her waiting for me behind the backstop on the other side of the field.  She was sitting down next to her backpack with her legs crossed and she seemed to be playing with the grass.

It was another one of those warm spring evenings and there was a hot breeze that blew in the late day air.  As we walked off the field and took off our pads the aroma of sweat and steam mixed in with the mugginess and created a feeling of nostalgia from seasons past.

I carried my bag over towards Katie and she greeted me with a straight face.

“I hate when guys think they’re good at lacrosse when they’re not at all.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah.”

I sat down next to her.

“Well I hate when girls think it’s ok not to wear make up once the school day’s over.”

No matter how hard she tried, Katie could never contain her happiness and it was her eagerness to laugh that always set us apart.

“Thanks, ass.  You smell like shit!”

“Of course I do, I’m a man.”

“Are you?”

“I try to be,” I fell down beside her with the orange sky above me.  The other players had gradually left the field.  The sounds of wooden bats cracking and the yelling of obscenities echoed in the near distance as the baseball team practiced next to us.

“How’s your mom?” Katie asked while lying beside me.

“She’s fine,” I wanted to ask her the same question but I knew it would only make the conversation uncomfortable.  Her parents had been fighting for years and a month earlier they had told Katie the news of their divorce.

“She asks about you a lot,” Katie didn’t respond so I decided to change the subject, “when did you get your haircut?”

“Yesterday.”

“It’s not bad.”

“Wait a minute, are you being nice?”

As I grew up with Katie, there were specific moments that marked significant changes in her appearance.

First it was her glasses.

Up until the fourth grade Katie always had glasses, until one day she came to school and debuted her trademark green eyes.

Then it was the bikini.

It was during the summer right before middle school and she came to my house to pick up her little brother who was friends with my brother.  As I answered the door I remember standing in awe as she stood there with her hair worn up and her green bikini top and tight jean shorts.  A beautiful stranger with a familiar face.

“You can tell your mom I got a haircut, if she asks about me again.”

Katie reached for her bag and grabbed a pack of cigarettes.  I stared at the pack as if it was some kind of birth defect I had never seen on Katie and I felt strange.  She took one out and as she pulled out a purple lighter, a small flicker of flame slowly burnt the tip.

It was not so much the cigarette that made me feel the way I felt, but rather it was the continuing tradition of year to year surprises I endured with Katie—like the time I found out she had shown her breasts to a couple of upperclassmen at a party in the fall.

Katie laid back down onto the uncut grass and inhaled the smoke like one of those sexual goddesses from the silver screen, “I don’t even know why I talk to you now,” she said.

I lay down too and I stared up at the sky and I noticed dark clouds in the distance rolling in over the horizon.  The air began to cool as the sun lowered and there was a sweet smell in the air.

“Maybe because I’m handsome, and funny, and smart.”

Katie had a hearty laugh that came from deep within her and she rolled over to face me, digging her elbows deep into the ground.

“You are funny, I’ll give you that.”

Trees lush with green leaves surrounded the field.  The same trees that turned brown in the fall and dead in the winter.  The smoke from Katie’s cigarette filled my nostrils along with the smell of rain even though there was no rain.  A warm breeze blew and covered us as we laid there on the grass of the lacrosse field.

Katie flicked her cigarette and climbed on top of me.  Her straightened black hair fell into my face and tickled my flesh.  Her hair smelt like fruit and sugar and she looked into my eyes.  I remember feeling something inside of me I hadn’t felt with anyone else.  It was a feeling of security and certainty and I felt more like myself than I had ever before.

I thought about sleeping with Katie.

I had thought about sleeping with her many times before, but this time was different.  This time I could actually feel her strong breath on my face.  I imagined the warmth from her milk skin pressed against my own warmth and I imagined a feeling of power escaping me as pure joy flooded in.

But most of all, I tired to imagine what she would be like afterwards.

I remember wondering if she would smoke her cigarette as she held it firm in between her crimson blood fingernails while smoke stained the bed and our naked skin.  I remember imagining her hand pressed against my chest barely grazing my skin as if she was being careful.

Katie looked down at me and her face was dead straight and the sky was a painting behind her, “I’m bored,” she lamented, “let’s get out of here.”

We left the field and Katie drove me home.  The sky outside was dark and light at the same time and both the moon and the sun could be seen.  We drove past the army of green oak trees that lined the quiet street and she dropped me off at home with a kiss on the cheek.

I didn’t think too much about our evening together on the lacrosse field and I didn’t think too much about loving her.

I walked into my house and I threw my pads in the garage next to the sleds and basketballs.  When I entered the kitchen, my parents were sitting in silence—as if they had been waiting for me all their life.  I grabbed a water bottle from the kitchen fridge and I decided to talk first.

“What?”

My mom spoke with a chalky, careful voice, “Can you sit down for a sec?”

“Why, what’s up?”  My dad looked up at me with a stone smile and unlike my mom he spoke with a certain amount of strength that I could only hope to achieve one day.

“We’re moving to California.”

And that’s when it hit me.

 

HIGHWAY 1 TWISTED around the cliff edge as I drove around tight corners, hugging the guardrail, teetering on the edge of sheer rock.  The waves turned white from the wind and the water was pure aqua blue.  Giant rocks, white with bird excrement, jutted out of the sea and the waves broke furiously.  Rust colored kelp floated aimlessly showing signs of vast forests underneath.

At one point, alongside the highway, there was a pull off spot on the left where the cliff edge gradually became a small stretch of beach.

It was a viewing sight for elephant seals.

“Let’s go check them out,” Noah was always excited for small sideshows, so naturally he had his head halfway out the window yearning for the giant mammals of the sea.

“No, let’s just get there.”

The air outside was much colder than before and the wind blew stronger.  The radio was still playing songs that left us with indifference, but the music was drowned out as the ferocious gusts of wind pounded my eardrums.

We were almost at Big Sur and we drove alongside the sublime sea cliffs and the air was quickly becoming more pristine.  Outside the car a fence made of weathered drift wood posts lined the two-lane highway.  There were no other cars on the road with the exception of an occasional truck or two.  Vast sand dunes dusted with swaying green grass and pockets of white daisies surrounded us as the myriad of linear driftwood rapidly flickered past the windows.

There was still some iced tea left in my can from hours before so I finished the remaining fluid and reached back for a water bottle rolling on the ground.

“Do you wanna get something to eat?” Noah asked.

“Nah, we will when we get there.”

Hours passed by as did the ocean and the kelp and the bird shit rocks and eventually we entered into the towering forest of Big Sur.  Giant redwoods and sequoias stood tall alongside the highway with nothing but blue sky above and scattered shade below.  The road continued to twist through the forest and the wind continued to blow hard.

“We have to go camping, this place is awesome,” Noah was enthralled by the surrounding nature.

“Yeah,” I responded, “It is.”

“Let’s just sleep out under the stars tonight, when’s the last time you did that?”

“I don’t know.”

We reached the first signs of civilization when we arrived at Carmel.  It was around five o’clock.

The town was quaint with small beach cottages and there was a center with a library.  We drove down the main street that was called Main Street and we rode past art shops and wine shops and a small park.

“Is this Monterey?” Noah asked.

“No, I think its Carmel.  They’re all the same, though.”

“You alright?” Noah looked at me and we were almost at the small town of Salinas.

“Yeah, just a little tired.”

The sun began to set and the air was now calm and peaceful like a warm blanket.  Although we were in the same town with the same buildings and the same sights, everything began to look different.  The setting sun shed a glow onto everything we drove past, illuminating the flowers and the mailboxes and the faces.  The smell of smoke floated from chimneys and slowly melted into the air.  The radio was off and silence consumed the car.

The houses along the street stood out to me most that evening.

As the sun continued to lower in the sky the tired houses had a golden hue, like castles made of sand, quietly waiting to wash away into the darkness of the night.  It was beautiful.

“Fuck it, let’s get some beers.”

I pulled into the nearest Vons and we bought a thirty pack of Bud Light and we drove to the ocean where we sat outside the car and watched the remains of a dying day.  I turned to Noah.

“Pretty cool, huh.”

“What’s cool?”

“I don’t know, the sunset.”

“Yeah.”

“Everything looks cool in this light, you know?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

I sipped on the frosted can as cold beer splashed against the back of my throat.

“What is there to do in Monterey anyways?” Noah asked.

“No idea,” I replied, “there’s a wax museum of John Steinbeck statues.”

“Just John Steinbeck?”

“Yeah, like, him doing different positions and activities and stuff.”

“’Here’s John eating. Here’s John taking a shit.’”

“Hah, yeah.”

We drank some more beer and we watched the sun slowly disappear.  After a short moment of quiet calmness, we resumed talking.

“Do you think it’s weird that I never told Katie I loved her?”  Noah drank more of his beer, then sighed and responded irritably.

“I don’t know dude, no.”

“I don’t know, I don’t really say ‘I love you’ to anyone, like, even my family.  I don’t know why I just don’t.”

“I tell my dad I love him all the time but he just hits me and tells me to grow a pair of balls.”

“Let’s go eat.”

We found a small Mexican restaurant decorated with Christmas lights and faint recordings of mariachi bands.  The food was subpar and after drinking a couple of store-bought margaritas, we went to a local bar that was just down the way.

We met some people who lived in Monterey and we met a couple of cute girls that were visiting like us.  We drank and played games and we talked for hours.  The girls eventually left and as we drank more we became friendlier with the locals.  The bar closed at one o’clock so we decided to head back to the car to finish the remaining beer we had from before.

The beach was dark and cold and I put on a flannel as Noah wore his sweatshirt that actually belonged to me.  We took off our shoes and walked onto the sand and sat down with the half empty thirty-pack and opened up a couple of cans.  Noah began to talk.

“What are you going to do, like, after college?”  The question entered my mind like a black fly on a hot summer night and it burned my brain like the flicker of a flame.

“No idea, man.  What about you?  Are you still joining the army?”

Noah had told me about his meetings with the recruitment officer at community college.

“I think so.  My mom is being a real hippie though trying to talk me out of it.”

“Yeah, I bet.”

We sat quietly for a little, then Noah continued.

“I thought you want to be a writer.”

I became slightly embarrassed about Noah’s comment.  I never really spoke to him about my writing and he hadn’t read any of my stories, even though he was my closest friend.  For some reason, right then, I became humiliated—humiliated and angry.

“No, dude.  I’m not gonna be a writer, that’s stupid.”

Noah remained silent.

“The sad thing is I don’t feel passionate about anything, you know?  I mean, yeah, I guess have my writing,” I paused for a moment, “but what if I’m not even good at writing?  How would I know?  If I’m not good, then I have nothing.”

I looked over at Noah and he sat quietly staring at the ocean.

“I’m sure you’ll think of something,” he said, “you’re a good writer.”

“I know.  I know that I’m a good writer.  That’s not the problem,” Noah turned to face me,

“The problem is I have nothing to write about.”

Noah fell silent and immediately I realized our conversation had turned serious.  I drank some more beer and after a while Noah decided to change the subject.

“Do you ever think about if you were born as a different person?”

The coldness of the night began to infiltrate my thin flannel.

“Yeah, I know, like, a different family, or a different time?”

“But I guess that wouldn’t really work though, because we came from our dad’s own sperm.”

“Yeah, but what if our little sperm didn’t make it?  What if it just got beat out by another little guy?  What if your dad had jerked off that day?  It’s pretty crazy.”

“Yeah, I know.  I guess we’re pretty lucky, huh.”

I grabbed my can and raised it to Noah and he did the same.

“Here’s to being the lucky ones.”

Time passed and the beer eventually ran out and we fell asleep outside;

On the sand and under the stars.

 

I REMEMBER MY MOM AS I REMEMBER A SONG.

My mom rarely played her own music in the house when I was little.  On weekends or holidays when we would sit together in the living room it was always the sound of the Allman Brothers or Van Morrison that projected from the home entertainment system.  My dad loved the Allman Brothers, and on Sunday afternoons they would always be playing as he fell into a late day nap while I played on the floor.  When I look back at my childhood I always picture my dad asleep on the couch with the Allman Brothers.

But for my mom it’s a different story.

On weekdays when I would stay home from school and when my dad was at work, my mom would at last have complete freedom to play the music of her choice.  Although I clearly remember the Allman Brothers, when it comes to my mom I can only remember one song.

It was a beautiful song.

When I think of the song I think back to afternoons when it would rain and my mom would be with me in the living room as we sat together.  It started off with a light piano solo; maybe only one or two chords, and I remember the way my heart became warm when the melody entered.  I remember the simplistic yet powerful piano keys that trickled down like individual drops of water that accompanied the haunting yet sublime vocals singing about womanhood and heartbreak, all accompanied by the rain pattering against the living room window.  The voice that sang was deep yet angelic and the orchestrated melancholy flooded my ears and seeped into the depths of my mind.

But the day would pass and the sun in the sky went down and my dad would come home and the music would stop.

The song would never stop playing for me though, as over the years it became ingrained in my mind, like a fading memory from my childhood.  And it would be this song that transcended all other songs and all other music because more so than any scent or sight or feeling of touch, the harmonious sounds from this song unknown became the face of my mom, and just like the rest of my childhood, it became a fleeting memory.

 

I WOKE UP EARLY IN THE MORNING from the realization that it was probably not legal to sleep on the beach.  Early morning joggers ran by and I walked around to pick up the empty beer cans lying on the ground.

I didn’t wake up Noah right away and I sat alone looking out at the sea.  The sky was white with marine layer and the air was bitter cold and salty.

A scene straight from Steinbeck.

Noah eventually woke up and we grabbed a light breakfast then drove to a small house in a quiet neighborhood.

“You ready?” Noah was driving now and we sat parked out in front of the house.

“Yeah, what are you gonna do today?”

“I don’t know, probably surf.”

‘You don’t have a surfboard.”

“I’ll just ask to borrow one.”

I didn’t want to waste any more time with him so I opened the door and got out and Noah drove off leaving me alone before the house.

The front door was open so I walked in and headed up the stairs.  I knew which room to go to so I walked up to the door and opened it.

“Hey, Mom.”

She was lying in her bed and the sun shown through the translucent yellow curtains that billowed in the breeze.

“Hi, Hun!” Her voice was tired but at the same time excited and she wore a great smile, “how are you?”

“I’m good.  How are you?” I walked up to give her a hug as she sat up to embrace me.  Her hair was turning grey and was quickly thinning and her face looked weathered.  But despite the intense treatment she received over the past years and although her light was fading, she looked beautiful, more beautiful than ever.

“I’m ok.  Do you have school tomorrow?”

“Yeah, I would stay a couple of days but I have to get back.”

“Is Noah here?”

“Yeah he’s out somewhere trying to borrow a surfboard,” my mom laughed and coughed and adjusted herself in bed.

“He’s a funny kid, isn’t he?”

“Yeah.”

I sat beside her and we talked for a while about school and my classes and my friends.  My mom had been living in Monterey for a couple of years now, ever since she became ill.  It was her sister’s home and once we moved out to California she became the only family near us who could care for my dying mother.

After we talked and became caught up, the room fell silent and we sat in that silence as she smiled and rubbed my hand.

“Hey, Matt,” her face softened and she spoke quietly with a heavenly voice.  She looked into my eyes, “I love you and Alex so much, you know that right?”

“I know.”

“I’m just so proud of you, Matt, I am, I really am.  You are such a wonderful person.” tears formed in her eyes and her voice became shaky.  She grabbed my hand and touched my face and smiled while crying.

“I know you’re a little scared, it’s ok, you are going to live a wonderful life.  You’re going to marry a beautiful girl and you’re going to have a beautiful family,” She was in tears that I had not seen and we sat together in the yellow room on her white bed, “you have so much ahead of you.”

Orchestrated melancholy flooded my ears.

“It’s ok, it’s ok,” my mom held my face in her hand, “calm down sweetheart. I love you so much.  I’m so proud of you.”

I looked at her and I looked out the window and I gathered myself to speak.

“I love you too, Mom.”

Hours passed and I said goodbye and left the house at around five. Noah was outside waiting.  I opened the door to the Jetta and quickly looked back at the house behind me and the sky behind me and everything else that was behind me.

Then I climbed in the car.

“You ok?”

“Yeah, what’d you do today?”  I grabbed my seat belt and we drove off, back through the all too familiar town and back onto the highway.

“I went to the beach and asked around but no one would let me use their board, what?  Don’t laugh.  So I just decided not to go out because I realized I didn’t even have a wetsuit either so I went and checked out that wax museum thing and I met some chick who was from Italy so we spoke Italian for a little, then I just hung out until now.”

“Was she cute?”

“Who?”

‘The Italian girl.”

“Oh, yeah, really cute, but I think she thought I was creepy because she went to find her dad.”

On our way back home we passed through the forests of Big Sur and we stopped along Highway 1 to look at the elephant seals and we drove back through the hills of San Luis Obispo.

As we drove along the winding road the setting sun accentuated the contours of the rolling hills that were littered with daisies and small flowers and the green grass was gilded with a golden hue.

An illustration from past childhoods.

I turned to Noah who was looking out his window as well.

“The hills look pretty cool with the sunset, huh?”

Noah laughed.

“Why do you like sunsets so much?”

I looked back out my window and contemplated Noah’s question.  Time passed and I eventually came up with an answer that was so beautiful and true and inspiring and sad that I knew I had to write it down.

But I could only shrug.

“I don’t know, who doesn’t?”

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