Monday, May 30, 2011
It was a quiet, cold day at the beach, one of those afternoons not really fit for getting in the water. It was chilly, the waves were non-existent, and the sun offered little warmth.
Even the fish seemed uninterested, bored. It wasn't a day anyone would remember for any reason.
The horizon, however, seemed different today. It beckoned like an old friend, fading a perfect blue sky into a mix of purples and oranges as the sun neared the end of another daily trek across our lives.
It was a perfect time for solo reflection, wondering why on earth anyone would stand chest-high in the chilled, brownish water of Galveston Bay.
It was even more bizarre to see the surfer.
He was old, unshaven, wiry thin in his wetsuit. He seemed to appear out of nowhere, paddling gently alongside me, looking for waves that didn't exist.
His voice was crippled, as though it had been rendered useless from yelling long ago.
His very presence was surprising enough, but the cowboy hat tied tightly to his head seemed completely out of place.
"Nice day, huh?" He offered.
I snickered. "Not really for humans, no."
I felt the water seem to grow colder. "Nice hat," I said, unable to think of anything else.
His gray features almost formed a smile. He sat on his board, pensive, not really moving, as if he just wanted someone to be around.
"Not much in the way of waves today," I said, fishing for any idea as to why this man was in the water, hanging around me, wearing a tattered brown Cowboy hat.
He pointed to the horizon. "They are out there," he said softly.
I looked hard, but didn't see any.
"So you are going all the way out there?"
He seemed to smile, but it was hard to make out his lips covered in his gray, unshaven beard.
"I'll go where the waves are."
The simplicity of his comment seemed to make sense.
We sat there in silence for a while, the waves gently rocking. It was peaceful, reassuring.
"I lost a friend," he finally said, his voice barely a whisper now. "We came down here all the time. We'd sit in the water for hours, never really surfing. Just enjoying the water, you know?"
He looked sad, those few words saying so much.
The chance meetings we have in life, the moments you forget as soon as they are passed...sometimes just knowing a person is there makes everything seem OK. When they aren't there anymore, you realize all the things they meant to you.
The surfer just sat there on the board, looking out, wistful.
"I never got to say goodbye," he said. "We never get to. Silly things get in the way. We get so caught up in work, stress, life...paying bills, dealing with jerky bosses. You just forget to talk to people. Then one day you can't anymore."
He adjusted the hat as the wind started to whip around us, making the day even colder.
"Wouldn't it be great if every day could be spent in the water, just knowing somebody is there next to you?" He asked, not really expecting an answer.
So I didn't. The silence seemed to say enough. There was something ghostlike about the man, something surreal, yet at the same time comforting.
"I think it's time," he said.
He started to paddle, looked back, and said "Thank you." Then he added something else, something I couldn't hear, as the wind roared in my ears. This time I clearly saw a smile.
I watched as he gently paddled toward the horizon, to waves only he expected to find. He just kept going, farther and farther, until all I could see was the hat gently bobbing in the water.
Then even that was gone.
I waited a while longer, then got out of the water, downed an ice cold beer and watched the horizon, but he never came back. Hours later, warm from a fresh buzz, I finally left.
Many times since I have gone to the same area, hoping to see the surfer in the brown cowboy hat. A man whose name I never knew. I checked the newspapers to see if anyone had gone missing, but there was nothing.
Sometimes I wonder if it even happened, this chance meeting with a surfer who just wanted someone around. I wish I could talk to him again, see that ridiculous hat. Learn more. Feel more.
That chance meeting reminded me of so many things. Sometimes, just knowing someone is there means so much. When they are gone, we feel a void that can never be filled again. As we get to a certain age, we lose more and more people. Our friends begin to disappear, some never knowing how much they meant to us; that sometimes just being there brought a joy to our life we can never recover. As our days begin to dwindle, more and more gets taken away.
That few minutes in the water stays with me; of all the chance meetings that happen every day, an old man on a surfboard stays in my head.
I didn't know his name. And I don't know what happened to the surfer.
I just know I never got to say goodbye.
For Mindy. We will miss you more than you will ever know. Goodbye, my friend.