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May 24, 2012

We met at Matt’s apartment. We all piled into Chelsea’s Prius. I sat up front in the passenger seat. Matt was in the back with Chloe his rottweiler. Windows down, sun shining, a full tank and enough music to take us to the coast and back, we hit the highway. We took turns with stereo. Chelsea plugged in her iPod and we listened to a playlist composed of modern chart-toppers, from LMFAO to Taylor Swift. After an hour or so, we stopped at a rest stop to let the dog walk around and to stop Matt complaining about how thirsty he was. Chelsea and I read the plaque on the old brick building that contained the restrooms. We got back in the car, Matt with his Coke and Chloe suitably winded. Matt had a CD for us to listen to, a mix of hipster bands and indie rock that induced a sort of depression with reverb. Of all the people I know, he is the most evangelical with music. He made us stop talking during a song by Beirut and assured Chelsea she would like Toro y Moi. Judging by her expression, I’m not sure he was right. Another hour passed; more towns disappeared behind us; we left the mountains in the dust. It was my turn. I too had brought a CD, a mix of good time music guaranteed to bring a smile to the most cynical face. Who can resist the vocal harmonies and handclaps of Elvis’ “Hound Dog”? Who doesn’t love “Maybellene”? We supplied the response to Cab Calloway’s calls of “Hi-de-hi-de-ho” and “Hi-de-hi-de-he”. We pulled into a parking spot as Wes Tuttle sang “Out On The Open Range”.

“Thank god,” Chelsea said. “I think on the way home we’ll listen to the radio.”

I laughed. We got out of the car and walked along the boardwalk with the ocean stretching away on our right, inexorable and sparkling under the mild spring sun. A slight breeze drifted in, sweeping away the drowsy, sweaty travel sheen that settles on the car-bound traveler. The ocean always stuns me. The vastness, the lumbering verve, the glittering beauty that dazzles the eye, to a girl raised miles from any substantial body of water it instills a humility in me, a childlike awe. Chloe had no such feelings of awe and respect. At the first opportunity, she ran down the beach and into the water with Matt running wildly behind.

“Chloe! Chloe! You’re going to get me in trouble!”

He managed to coax her back to the shore long enough to put a leash on her. He walked back up to the boardwalk panting more than Chloe.

“Jesus Christ,” he whined. “It’s worse than having a kid.”

We had lunch in the outdoor dining area of a restaurant called Theo’s. Matt and I shared a pizza and Chelsea had a big salad with mozzarella cheese, olives and blue cheese dressing. Matt teased her about her gluten intolerance.

“You know, in the 21st century, we don’t really accept intolerance of any kind. First it’s gluten but then where does it end? Next you won’t be tolerating gingers.”

“I would appreciate,” Chelsea replied tartly, “if you would not use the word ‘ginger’ to describe redheads. It is offensive and undermines the copper community as a whole.”

“Copper community?” He seemed genuinely frightened of Chelsea.

Chelsea and I had a good laugh at Matt’s expense.

“Women, eh, Chlo?” He looked at the dog. She kept her eyes permanently fixed on the slice of pizza in his hand. “Why am I asking you?”

After lunch we walked along the beach. Chelsea and I took our shoes off and carried them while we walked in the sand. Matt refused, saying he hated getting sand in between his toes. He is a notorious clean freak, so despite the fact that Chelsea and I tried to coax him into it, I knew he would never take his shoes off. While I suppose I miss out on living in a perpetually sterile and tidy environment, Matt misses out on some of the great joys in life by refusing to let go of his baffling notions of clean and dirty. There is a connection to be made with the Earth there in the sand, your toes caressed by the hand of Mother Nature. It is both primal and uniquely human; it illuminates my own humble humanity much in the same way as the sea.

We walked along the beach for a couple of hours, taking a few breaks to just sit and watch the waves break. Matt and Chloe played fetch most of the time. Matt would throw the ball into the surf and Chloe would dive in to fetch it. They paused only when another dog and owner would come along. Chloe would run to meet them and Matt would pursue to restrain her. Matt ended up chatting with one of the owners for a long time, a guy named Aidin, the owner of a golden lab named Barbara, and they exchanged phone numbers.

“And that’s why you get a dog,” Matt told us after.

“We’re girls. We don’t need dogs,” Chelsea said.

After a few hours we went to a place called Giuseppe’s and got gelato. I had pistachio and vanilla and it was so good it made me want to move and get a job at Giuseppe’s.

We had walked the entire length of the beach on the sand so we decided we would walk back to the car along the sidewalk and look through the little shops that sold things you never thought you wanted. Chelsea and I had to stop and clean the sand off of our feet before putting our shoes on.

“C’mon, ladies,” he said mockingly. “I’m ready to go. What’s taking so long?”

“Ha ha,” I said.

I ended up buying a t-shirt with the name of the city on it. Chelsea bought a shot glass. Matt didn’t buy anything and talked about how a summer job in his first year of college had put him off any souvenir gewgaws for life. We walked along the sidewalk and I felt warm. The breeze was much less here. I could feel the warmth of my sun-drenched skin and remembered I didn’t wear sun block. It didn’t matter. I felt full, warm and happy.

We got back to the car as the sun was going down. Chelsea turned on the radio as promised. Matt and Chloe fell asleep in the back seat. Chloe’s doggy snores were almost louder than the radio. Chelsea and I talked quietly in the front seat. She wondered what she should do now that she was done with school. Her parents keep pressuring her to move back home, but her friends and her on-again-off-again boyfriend Jeff are all by school. I told her I thought home was somewhere that you choose to be not somewhere that is chosen for you.

Eventually we lapsed into silence as it got dark and we drew closer and closer to home. The radio played quietly. Chloe snored rhythmically in the back. Chelsea was pensive in the seat beside me, no doubt feeling the increasing pressure of the long-reaching life decisions that awaited her as the end of our day off drew closer. Matt was probably dreaming of Aidin, not in the way you’d think, but if I know Matt, it was probably a dream in which they hook up and begin to see each other and he discovers that Aidin is messier than a kid with finger paints or that Aidin is a Republican or that Aidin thinks comics are stupid and sports are the only thing that matters. Some dream come true with an O. Henry twist.

I thought about how much I love my friends and how much I love being alive, how grateful I am for a breeze from the sea, or playful teasing, or a loyal dog. I began to feel a sense of loss as the day drew to a close. I feel like when I am old, and I think of how much I miss my friends and being young, I will think of that day. It wasn’t fantastically memorable. It wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime day. It was a day I spent with my friends, the family that I chose that wasn’t chosen for me, and we had a good time without being weird about it. It was simply a good day.

Chelsea dropped Matt and Chloe off and then drove me home so I wouldn’t have to take the bus. I hugged her before I got out. It was an earnest hug and I’m sure she was perplexed. It was hug that a character in a story gives when they realize they are really alive and the dream they have just come out of where everything is strange and wrong is only a dream. I hugged her tightly and told her everything would work out. I went inside and slept the sleep of contentment.


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