On my desk among dozens of files, computer paraphernalia, pens and assorted office supplies, there is a little tray. It contains miscellaneous paperclips that never quite made it to my drawer, broken leads from the lone gone mechanical pencils which I used to use, a few coins from places I long forgot, and always on the right side of the tray is a small round unremarkable stone. Days, weeks sometimes entire months will go by and I don’t even see it. Then something happens; the end of the day, a short pause in the noise of the office. I don’t really know what – and I notice it sitting there. It means nothing to anyone else in the world, except possibly one person, and yet so much to me. A marbled gray rock. One of ten million that you would find on any ocean shore in the world. I have never told anyone why it is there. No one has ever asked. I don’t expect anyone ever to. And I imagine that I am not the only person to hold on to such a incongruous article that only I find special.
A long time ago I shared an evening with some friends. Something happened that night that I will never forget. It was unremarkable in so many ways and yet it is a night that I fondly cherish.
The wind was blowing. A mild storm lay brewing outside the cabin. Inside the fire illuminated the room with an orange glow. Shadows danced on the stone threshold. The faint smell of burnt embers emitted into the room. We were just sitting there watching the flames lick and flicker, listening to the howl of the ocean winds. The sounds of the waves intruded through the walls. There were 3 of us that evening. Not engaged in much conversation. A brief stint at Hearts, someone had brought Trivial Pursuit. It lay unopened. It was one of those nights where a long period of silence became a gift instead of an awkwardness. Each one obviously reaching within themselves to ponder anything, nothing. A particularly hard gust hit the side of the cabin and it was almost reflexive when I got up and pulled aside the curtain to peer out.
An opalescent brilliant light shone out over the beach below. It looked as if a painter had taken a wide brush and stroked it down from the heavens illuminating a clear path from where I stood down to the crashing waves below. It was an invitation I was compelled to follow.
I told them where I was going. I knew they would want to come along as well. There was just something swirling in the air that made you want to experience something extraordinary. Like a memory that didn’t yet exist but you were certain that it could.
The moonlight brightened considerably as we made our way down the makeshift stairs. They were constructed of boards that held together small platforms of sand. Metal stakes held the boards and the ocean grass was faithfully overtaking all of it. The strong clear biting wind that only comes from the Sea was constant in our ears. That unmistakable smell of seaweed and salt filled my head. And down we proceeded.
The mist of the waves playing over the beach made the sand firm. It held our feet as we walked along the waters’ edge the sheets of water dancing away on the millions of small grains. Under the nights glow it looked like flowing silk rippling under a soft wind, a gentle push then pull, as the water raced back to it’s home. We walked and talked, sat on driftwood and cast rocks into the water. Using a worn out branch from a tree we wrote our names in the sand.
I saw her throw a rock into the crashing waves and soon found myself searching for that ‘perfect’ stone that we all know exists. In my unsuccessful hunt I picked up a small marbled gray round one. It was just the right size to fit between your thumb and your index finger. I reared back to give it a mighty cast, but the stone slipped and hit a nearby piece of driftwood and bounced back into the sand. I really didn’t pay much attention at the time but I did see her pick it up. We all continued acting like children.
It was very late when we made our way up back to the cabin. She was in front of me on the flimsy steps. The darkness was quite pronounced but I knew it was on purpose when she fell back, protesting a bad step and ended up in my arms. Hardly but a few seconds passed but I welcomed it. Even reveled in it. But she was with the other guy, my friend. And we both knew that enough doubt lie there that neither of us would mention it.
The rest of the trip was pleasant but uneventful. To be honest I don’t remember it well at all.
Over the next several months I spent a lot of time with my friends. Dinner, movies games and social events seemed to fill my calendar. I have to be honest that every time I saw her after that evening I wondered, or more correctly doubted what had happened. But in small ways it slowly became clear that there was something more than friendship that was growing.
I watched her continue her chosen life course while I continued mine, meandering down life’s many streets as they regularly and happily intertwined. But as so often happens, and too soon as it so often seems, a destination had to be chosen. I supposed we were really hoping that it wouldn’t, that we could go along as we were, enjoying the simple and exhilarating part of the journey but that just isn’t life.
We agreed that we could never see each other again. Literally. I can still remember with acute recollection the emotion of that day, even that hour and minute. It felt like setting a broken leg without anesthesia. I knew it was coming, expected it to come but the pain caught me completely off guard. If one’s spirit could howl, mine did that day.
The last time I saw her was an evening in May. There is absolutely nothing that I can remember of that evening except that we talked and the time went by way too quickly. I can still remember her whimsical smile as she held my gaze and held out a closed hand. It was a reflex as I extended my arm and watched distantly as my fingers opened up forming a concave palm. She placed a small marbled gray stone in it and I immediately remembered that night at the ocean. That perfect night.
I attempted to speak. My lips parted and the unknown words sat at the back of my throat but there was no air to carry them. My mind, usually so fertile with thought provided me only emptiness. So I left.
That was many, many years ago.
On my desk among the assorted files and computer paraphernalia there is a small tray. It has in it lost paperclips and mostly used pencil leads along with a few old coins. On the right side there is a small marbled gray stone. It means nothing to anyone else in the world except for perhaps one other person. I know she has never told anyone about it. It is the last secret we two hold of each other. It looks so much like a common stone. But when I look at it, it reminds me of a girl that I will always cherish, and a night I will never forget.
On days when there are too many questions and not enough answers I look at that stone and I have to smile. Life is about memories. Ones we’ve experienced and ones we’ve yet to make.
I’m particularly fond of one.