As I made my way down the beach, I noticed the family. They were planted atop the shore’s sandy hill just to my right with their belongings and sun-soaked bodies spread out on the makeshift pallet of blankets. The man was unconscious – sleeping, not dead. He thought he was hiding it behind his gas-station sunglasses, but the rhythmic nature of his snores exposed him. The woman’s eyes were fixated on the waves that crashed into her two girls as if her gaze was the only thing preventing the sea from inflicting harm. I watched as the girls giggled and continued their failed attempts at hurdling over the spraying waves. The family had excessive everything: excessive sunscreen bottles, printed beach towels, unperishable and individually wrapped snacks… excessive companionship. They reminded me of what little excess I now have to call my own.
I wasn’t always like this. I wasn’t always a wanderer. There was a period of my life when I, too, had companions and many things in excess. I had a family. I had the good-old-fashioned- American-dream type of family that everybody wants when they’re young. I had that. I had the shuttered kitchen windows that let in the soft stripes of morning sunlight when the moon went to sleep and the Sun woke up. I had the home-y wooden floors adjourned with carpets so soft you couldn’t help but fall asleep amidst the fluff. I even had the big backyard filled with too-perfect sod grass and a durably delicate Willow tree where I would lay on warm summer evenings.
I sat on the sand and watched the family from afar. You could tell this was a highly-anticipated excursion. The bag was perfectly packed, the meal perfectly planned, and everyone wore their new beach garb. The girls flaunted their swimsuits and demanded the man take photos of them
with their sandcastle before Mother Nature herself sent a warrior of a wave to demolish their creation. You could tell the swimsuits were new because the youngest girl kept fidgeting with the improperly removed plastic tag.
I long to have my life in excess back at times, but there is also a part of me that enjoys my simplistic and independent life. I enjoy the freedom of moseying between parks, between cities, whenever and wherever I feel ready to go. I like eating when I want to eat and sleeping when I want to sleep while maintaining no regard for anyone’s schedule but my own. For the first time in my life I am the center, and that’s been a self-actualizing experience. That’s not to say I don’t miss my girl – I miss her a lot.
She was 12 when I left. I didn’t mean to leave; we got separated. In those days, we didn’t have the technology to find each other as easily as people do today. Things would be different if it had all happened today, but there’s no sense in dwelling on that. Mandy – that’s my girl’s name – meant the world to me. She was the kind of child all the parents fawn over in movies. Everyone told me she was quite the anomaly: she had the heart of a kid but the emotional intuition of a thirty-year-old psychiatrist, I swear it. I can’t remember a single time she lost her cool with me or threw a single fit – not even when she was a babe. I was supposed to be there to give her what she needed, but as it turns out, she was always the one caring for me.
I miss feeling cared for. Ever since I started my wandering, people look at me differently. Pitifully. At first, it was hard to tolerate. I don’t care to be pitied by strangers – they don’t know why or how I got here. They don’t know that I don’t feel sad about the situation I’m in now.
They don’t know that what scars me is remembering what I left behind. After enough wandering, I learned to bury my pride in order to survive. I discovered the advantages to being pitied: pity easily translates to charity, and when you’re always hungry for a meal, you don’t let charity pass you by.
I see a little bit of Mandy in those people – the people that look out for others just because they’re living creatures. Just the other night, I was walking down Clark Street when an old woman called me over. She was stout, grey and lumpy. I could tell she lived alone because her house was comprised of a single room filled with a bed, television, and a few photographs lining the shelves. I was sitting and listening to her when she offered me a bowl of warm, beef stew. It was the first real food I was offered in a long time. I don’t know if she realized it, but that woman reminded me of Mandy. She didn’t care for me as a chore or obligation, she did it because she knew the joys of giving love and the comfort of receiving it in return.
I checked over my shoulder – the girls were preoccupied searching for sea shells while the woman and man floated atop the salt of the ocean waves. I walked up to the now-empty island of beach blankets, scouring the feast laid out before me. My nose caught wind of the assortment of deli meats and cheese platters tucked into the picnic basket. The hunger I had been suppressing rushed over me, and, almost instinctively, I shoved my snout into the woven depths of the container before me. I indulged.
This was undeniably momentary relief – I was familiar with the taste of it. The remnants of this family picnic would only quiet my stomach for a few hours. Soon, my stomach would
experience hunger once again. Soon, I would think of Mandy, causing me to relive the bittersweet memories and re-experience a desire for her companionship, for her caring. Soon.
I found myself released from the haze of my own nostalgia only to see the woman charging up the sandy dunes upon which I was perched. She was looking right at me. She was yelling at me.
“Someone get that stray dog out of our food!” I ran away and kept wandering.