We write from memory.
Beach water was always too cold, sand too hot to walk across, the sun too bright for my eyes. Once my towel was wet, gritty, I had no where comfortable to be, no island safe from the encircling cigarette butts and shards of worn glass, 7-Up green, beer bottle brown, a sand flea hopping mad on a drying-out patch of seaweed from the last tide, so I’d stand next to my father, my skin always darker than his, but then his belly was like the underbelly of some great white shark sucking in his gut as he puffed on his Craven ‘A’s, his legs cracked open, drip drying in the sun I hated so much. Soon, I’d tell myself; he’ll become the lumbering walrus in my mind, barking for us to scramble our beach things together and follow his waddle to the picnic area, a rusted hibachi anchored in cement, the one closest to where the car was parked. A dozen hot dogs later, some grilled black and smelling of fuel, we’d be back on the road again soon, the back of his head.
Except this isn’t my father. Not really. I twisted it from an old snapshot. He’d been in the water, and was now drip-drying in his pre-speedo short shorts type bathing trunks, a shark-skin polyester stretch blend, posing romantically with his cigarette hand cranked up in the air, and in the background, one of the rusted picnic hibachis of my youth, my father’s big belly slightly indented because he’s sucking it in. It’s one Sunday of many we had, the one his image was captured for me.
I take back the waddle. My father never waddled. He half Lumbered, half strolled, surprisingly quick on his feet if need be, his toes pointed like a footballer, his wide shoulders arcing left and right for balance.
The cigarette butts half-buried in the too hot sand, the weathered shards of bottle glass, the sand fleas, that’s all true. And if my skin was sun-dark, it’s because I loved the out of doors as a child.
Five of us children, we’d test the back of my poor father’s head on these day trips, pushing against it as far as we could with our squabbling, our impatience, until he could take it no more and he’d have to freak out, his big fists gripping the steering wheel, keeping the car steady on the highway as he unhinged, finally. There were no solemn car rides home like in my snippet, my father like some perverted stranger driving us home, an ever present menace about us. We pushed, he gave, we switched seats, the worst of us in the moment moved up front between mom and dad.
We write from memory. But my father never smoked Craven “A”s. He smoked Export “A”s. The Craven “A” sounded better to me when I wrote the snippet. And it was okay that I presented him as such a menacing figure, his legs cracked open, moving into a waddle from his Napoleonic posings with the cancer stick, oblivious of the sickly child struggling to catch up, find a place, because not only do we write from memory, sometimes we create it looking for story.