The Apology Beach
I was born miles away from any known landmark in a nameless suburb where the people were small and mechanical. Men and women moved from home to work to home again on little two lane highways like clockwork. People at school used to joke that I skittered between classrooms like a mouse. It was always like that, trying to avoid being crushed by the thunderous steps of cackling teenagers threatening to crush me beneath their delusional glory. But one by one they would fall into their places as husbands, wives and cubicle workers while I raced through streets lined with skyscrapers and like-minded people all trying to get away.
Ma used to whisper, “don’t be like me,” as we sat huddled behind the locked bathroom door waiting for the pounding to stop. After his anger subsided Pops would usually drive the family down to a small beach as a way of apology. The drive there was mostly silent aside from Pops desperately trying to make conversation. I could see what no one else could; the road was lined with women’s heads on spikes. He’d bring all sorts of small treats, but only Ma would fall for them. The beach was dirty. It resembled more of a wasteland. In the distance, if one squinted hard enough you could just see the outline of a city. It was the only beautiful thing about that place.
When it was just the two of us Ma would tell stories about when she was my age. Guys used to look at her like she was the prettiest thing in this world. She whispered these memories into the dark, both our faces pressed on cold tile floor. She never thought she’d marry, but when God gives you a baby what choice is there? “You don’t love Daddy?” “I love Daddy.” “Do you love me?” “I love you most.” The only time “love,” was said more than “sorry,” was on that bathroom floor. That was our kingdom.
Everyone had a rhythm in that suburb and they all beat on at the same agonizing pace. It trapped us like flies. On Graduation Day I told Ma I had enough money to leave, savings from couch cushions and soul crushing jobs. She cried so hard I thought she’d beg me stay, but in fact it was the contrary. She used to sing me to sleep in that bathroom. Our hands built those four walls strong. Who would protect our kingdom now? Pops disowned me a thousand times that day.
When I left, the house was more silent than it had ever been, with Pops in his armchair ticking like a time bomb. Ma helped me pack my things. “I’m sorry,” I said, “I’ll visit, I swear. Please come live with me one day.” For once the apologies were coming from me. Ma had never looked so lost. Parts of me were relieved and others were locked to that house and that beach and that man who called himself my Pops. On the way down I passed the empty beach.
I thought of stopping there one final time, but my foot pressed the accelerator and its murky shores zoomed past my window, a greyish blur in the rearview mirror. There were no more ominous heads that used to line the road when I was a child. Two miles from my new home I thought again of Ma. She would have loved the city, tiny windows depicting vibrant portraits of fascinating people. My heart used to pound with fear, which I replaced with ambitions that could not be held behind a locked door. One day, I hoped, Ma would see this dream herself.