The fishing trip actually began last night for Barbara Ossa, on the eve of her birthday. It was also the anniversary of the night when her parents had left her two years ago. She had thought she would never celebrate her birthday again, but then changed her mind, deciding she would use the occasion to honor their memory.
Last year she bought a chocolate cupcake, stuck one candle in it, and tried to think only of happy times, birthday celebrations with her mother and father, hers and theirs. Last night, she went to a movie, alone, came home and went to bed, not to sleep but to stare at the ceiling, the pain of her grief coming back stronger and stronger, washing over her in waves as she fought to empty her mind and find sleep.
After the tears subsided, she would blame the hum of the neighbor’s air conditioner for keeping her awake. Or maybe it was the sound of the palm trees rustling in the night breeze? That’s the price you pay for living close to the ocean, she thought, there was always a breeze keeping you awake. She laughed at the irony of the thought, as the ocean breeze was part of why she loved living here. Sometimes the breeze became a strong wind, making a humming sound as it blew around the building. Sometimes the wind howled. She remembered nights when she enjoyed the sound of the wind in the trees.
On a night like this, when sleep is a stranger, every little thing comes to your attention, each little sound, or smell, or touch on your skin can be irritating. Thoughts swirl around, seeming so important at that moment, while you try to avoid thinking of unpleasant things. Such as losing your family in a senseless auto accident, an event that came out of nowhere, never expected or foreseen as you and your loved ones started that day, just another morning as you shared a laugh over breakfast, smiled as you kissed goodbye, unsuspecting in the moment it was your last goodbye.
The loves of your life, here one minute, vanished the next, leaving a hole in your heart the size of a continent. Trying to understand, people explaining it to you, it was a heavy rain, a winter night when dark comes before dinner time, her loved ones driving home on a crowded expressway, one driver losing control up ahead, unseen. Cars and trucks going too fast for the rain, the oil slicks on the pavement defeating the attempts at braking hard, everyone braking too late in the low visibility, coming together, some spinning, loud bangs you could feel as much as hear, rolling over, some burning. Big trucks were shredding cars, the people inside with little chance. In the downpour, no one could see where it began or would end.
So many times since she had found a way to stop thinking of that night. She learned a Buddhist chant. That sometimes worked. She thought of pleasant times she had at the beach, on horseback, on a boat ride or water skiing. Things she had shared with her father and mother. Tomorrow was her birthday; she was sure that her parents would not want the coincidental anniversary to be a cause for annual grieving.
Barbara lay still on top of the sheets, under the ceiling, staring up at the fan, unable to find sleep, still wrestling with her mind for control of her feelings. Her pillows began to feel like they contained rocks, she threw them on the floor. She had already put her alarm clock in the night table drawer, not caring to know how late it was before she found sleep, as knowing would make her even more tired after she arose next morning, as she never slept in. Eventually she noticed the sky begin to lighten. She opened the night stand drawer and looked in. It was 5:15, an hour till sunrise.
Restless, she decided a to start the day with a good cup of coffee and a sunrise on the beach, combining two of her favorite things, the aroma of strong coffee and the ocean air. “Happy birthday to me” she thought as she jumped up, stretched her long body, pulled on her favorite blue shorts and a white halter top, and jogged out to the coffee shop on the way to the beach a half block away, suddenly not feeling tired at all.
Barbara walked along the damp sand at the waters edge, watching the clouds over the Gulfstream turning glorious colors, breathing in the air, and sipping her café. She wanted to enjoy being alive, to be rid of the heavy feeling in her heart. She wondered how that was possible.
She consciously tried to look at positive aspects of her life, here and now. Well, she had no classes today, which was a good thing, only a 4pm appointment with Professor Hampton, head of the university drama department. A tryout, or audition, she wasn’t sure, for a part in the college theater production of Bali Hi. Professor Hampton had asked Barbara to try out for the part of the island witch doctor, a major role to offer a beginning drama student. The character was a short, older woman in the movie version, the physical opposite of Barbara.
In a brief conversation following one of her public speaking classes in which he was a guest lecturer, the professor had outlined his ideas to Barbara for a creative interpretation of the play. It was going to be a challenge for her, she knew, but he had strongly encouraged her, insisting that she would be right for the part as he saw it in his mind’s eye, one of his bold casting choices to bring the play current! His creative vision, and the excited way he asked for her help had excited her. She suddenly had the thought that this was just what she needed to gain some recognition in the university, maybe finally make some friends, and build her confidence for her future broadcasting career.
Looking forward to the tryout she started to worry about fatigue. She would take a nap before the audition, but she wanted to do something fun and a little special first. Watching the waves come in, the colors of the sunrise reflecting on the white foam in the surf, she suddenly had the thought, for the first time in her life she was sure, that she should go fishing. She laughed at the idea. She had no idea how to fish! As she turned to continue her walk along the water’s edge, she came face to face with someone she immediately recognized from campus.
“Ahhh! I thought this beach was empty!” she said laughing, taking a step back. “I thought I was alone, I hadn’t seen anyone here. Where did you come from?”
“I’ve been walking toward you from over by the parking for several minutes. I’m sorry I surprised you. I saw you standing and looking out at the waves, you seemed lost in your thoughts. I didn’t mean to sneak up on you! I’m Carlton, or just Carl. He was not offering his hand, but he was smiling broadly. Carl was glad he had gotten close before she had a chance to avoid him. He wanted to meet her, but he wouldn’t have pursued if she had turned and walked away when he approached.
“I’ve seen you on campus from time to time. I’ve wanted to say hello, but you were always alone and on the move, so I didn’t know how without seeming to be hitting on you, which must happen to you all the time.”
Barbara said, “Not really! I’ve seen you too. You’re usually surrounded by people, but you stood out, I guess because you’re tall and you were looking my way. So, it’s nice to meet you, I’m Barbara Ossa”, she said, smiling and offering her hand. Taking her hand Carl said “I’m glad to finally meet you.” then adding her name slowly, as if he wanted to say it correctly, “ Barbara Ossa.” “I’m just glad you stood still long enough for me to walk over. Do you want to be alone this morning, or may I walk with you?”
Uh oh, he is hitting on me, and in less than 30 seconds, she thought. Better be careful, he really is good looking, he likes early morning walks on the beach, and he might even be romantic. She suspected that he was one of the well-known, popular students at the university. She thought that he was a catch, though this wasn’t the kind of catch she had been thinking about, and laughed.
His face reddened at her laughter. “Oh no, I wasn’t laughing at what you said, I was laughing because it’s my birthday and I had just wished to not be alone today, and then you just appeared! I was feeling a little sad, because it’s my birthday, and I’m missing my family. I have an appointment at 4 o’clock. I’m trying to decide what to do with the day until then.”
His smile became huge. She wondered how big it was going to get! And what had made him smile. She decided that whatever caused it, his smile would be her birthday present. Her thoughts raced ahead, as her thoughts often did, and she visualized them as a couple, happy together, laughing together over breakfast as she and her parents once had. God, she was desperate, she thought, and the sadness came creeping back.
The freshening wind and the sound of the gulls returned her to the beach. Get real, she thought. She had career plans and life goals. Lonely as she was, she didn’t need to complicate her life right now.
They started to walk, Barbara feeling comfortable with Carl, which was surprising to her. She liked his relaxed, confident manner, his looks, even his name. Carlton was different, even Carl was not a common name, like Barbara.
“Well first of all, Happy Birthday Barbara! I’m glad I was able to appear and fulfill your wish! As it happens, I don’t have classes today either. Normally I’d just sleep in until afternoon, but something woke me early today, the sky was just getting light. I woke up and wanted to do something different today, something new. I’ve never been here for sunrise before, that’s new. I thought coming here for sunrise would help get an idea for something to do with the rest of the day. I was surprised to see you. Do you come here often?” Laughing he added, “Now that’s a classic line, right? I meant for the sunrise.”
Barbara smiled back, “I’ve never come here for sunrise before today. But I came for the same reason.”
Carlton stopped walking and turned to face her. “Let’s see, we both came here for sunrise, looking for an idea of what to do on this special day. What could be new and different? I know! Let me take you fishing! We could go out on one a drift fishing boats at the marina. They have fishing poles and all supplies, everything you need. Why don’t we do that? Let me take you fishing for your birthday?”