By Sean Dietrich
It’s night and I am on a beach in Destin, Florida. I am sitting on the shore, watching the mighty Gulf of Mexico. It never stops moving.
Never. A few hours ago, I was in a beach bar having dinner with an old friend. He looked good. He’s a family man now, with a good job in Birmingham. Two kids. A nice wife. I haven’t seen him in decades. Not since we were ugly young men, operating nail-guns together.
Long ago, we had things in common. His father left before he was born. Mine died when I was a boy.
Back then, we had the same idea on life. Namely: that life wasn’t fair.
We had fun tonight. There was a band playing top-40 hits. The lead guitarist sang “Brown Eyed Girl” like a donkey with a sinus infection. And people danced.
My friend and his wife ordered fruity drinks and two-stepped until they were sweaty. I said Goodnight Gracie and left early.
On my way home, I stopped here. And the memories came back by the metric ton.
This used to be my beach. I haven’t been here in years. We lived a few streets over. Our family’s old block house was yellow. And tiny. I slept on a pull-out sofa. My sister slept with my mother.
I would sit on the back porch steps when I couldn’t sleep, and look at the night. And I’d wonder things. Important things.
Things like: why does the Pope wear pointy hats? Who invented drive-thru liquor stores? Is it bad luck to be superstitious? And why does it seem like life is out to get me?
Anyway, this town has changed. Once upon a time, Destin was a sleepy fishing village. It had one traffic light—two at the most. It wasn’t swallowed by chain restaurants. There were only a few dives, a Shell Station and the docks on the harbor.
But progress brought thousands of traffic lights, high-rise condos, and two Walmarts, located ten miles apart. Two.
The old docks on the harbor were where I first got kissed. It was during the annual Fishing Rodeo. I sat on wood planks. My feet dangling. A girl sat beside me.
I was the most unhandsome boy in four counties, and she knew it. She felt bad for me. And, since people our age were kissing, she kissed me.
As soon as she planted one on me, I could tell that she wished she hadn’t. I’ve never felt so hideous.
Those docks are gone now. They tore them down to build an amusement park resort. Think: zip lines, jugglers, fire swallowers and funnel cakes. Funnel cakes.
But at least this little patch of sand is still mine. It’s the same place where I celebrated the five-year anniversary of my father’s death, a lifetime ago.
I’ll never forget it: it was two in the morning. I was a teenager. I waded into black water until I was chest-deep. I got lost in the stars.
That night, I stared at the Big Nothingness that hovers over the face of the Gulf. And I told the sky I wanted to start over. I wanted to begin again. I wanted to be someone else. Someone who wasn’t ugly. I wanted a different life—one that wasn’t unfair.
I closed my eyes. I held my breath. I dunked myself.
I leaned backward into the Gulf. When I emerged again, I cried. Not because I felt different, but because I felt nothing.
I thought it would be a baptism of sorts. I’d hoped I’d feel different. But that’s not the way life works. You get what you get and you don’t pitch a fit. There’s no use fighting it.
So I walked home in wet clothes and fell asleep on a cheap sofa bed in a block house.
That was a hundred eons ago. And tonight, I realize that I was wrong. So wrong, in fact, I had to write about it.
People do get to start over. Every day, you get a brand new sunrise. Nobodies become somebodies. Ugly people discover there’s no such thing as ugliness. Fatherless boys with nail-guns become family men who dance with their wives. And the magnificent Gulf of Mexico will never stop moving.
Life isn’t fair. But it’s beautiful.
And so are you.
Sean Dietrich is a columnist, and novelist, known for his commentary on life in the American South