Eleven years later, I still think about the girl on the beach.
January 2011: I am two days into my move from Washington to California. The drive is gray, dreary. I reach Crescent City and it is raining heavily. Northern winter rain. Something you only understand if you have been out in it or at the least watched it through a window. Perhaps one time you rolled down the car window and stuck out your hand in it, palm against pummeling water, and after that you might never again have felt right about calling precipitation. Such a gentle word that is.
I leave the highway and cut through town toward the ocean. At the top of the path to the beach is a child’s bicycle, streamers blowing sideways in the wind, which begs the question of who else is ridiculous enough to come here in this winter storm. Yet there she was, skinny driftwood in her hand, tracing a dragon into the sand.
She speaks to me as though we are peers, although I am then twenty-four and she must barely be in middle school. “I come here every day and I draw either a horse or a dragon,” she says as if I have asked her this question (which I have not) and then informs me on how Chinese and Japanese dragons differ from one another.
Both of us are drenched. Rain persists. She signs her name above her finished dragon, then traces a large circle around it, all the while running, exuberantly chatting on.
I tell her I used to draw horses, too.
And then, there on the first day of my new life in California I take a photo of her beside her dragon. She poses with childlike, unabashed pride. A moment later I am back in the car, back on the highway. I will not see her again.
Eleven years later I am deeply rooted into adulthood, a career, budgets and bills, an aging parent. But every now and then I think of her.
I want to go back to that day and tell her to be an artist. That anything else is a lie.
I want to tell her to take her dragons and her horses and stable them where they cannot run away.
I want to say this to anyone who will listen.