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The sun beats hot upon my shoulders and for a split second I regret forgetting to apply sunscreen. I sit alone on my blue striped towel, watching frothy waves crash incessantly against the sandy shore. The beach is crowded today, full of screaming children bouncing around in tide pools while their parents watch warily from behind the pages of novels and glossy magazines. By the water, I see a lonely sandcastle get crushed by a rampant wave. My spot of choice is far from the chaos, however. My towel lays far from the crashing ocean, in a slightly quieter area where it is impossible to discern where the beach ends and the grassy dunes begin. The dry, loose sand burns the soles of my feet, but I hardly notice. I dig my toes into the hot ground, hugging my knees to my chest. Wearing a loose t-shirt and denim shorts, I hardly fit in with the bathing-suit clad beach goers around me. Somewhere down the shore, a seagull screeches. It would be a beautiful scene to anyone in my position.
To me, the only beautiful aspect of this beach is the memories I shared with you.
It is hard to believe that we were here together a whole year ago. It could have been yesterday. I still recall every whispered conversation, every laugh, and every stolen kiss we shared while hiding in the grassy dunes as darkness fell. The kissing part resonates most strongly in my memory. I liked the way you held my face and ran your fingers through my hair. You made me feel loved.
You made my summer worthwhile. It would have been an understatement to say that I was dreading traveling to the Cape with only my family for company. You understood. You understood how I could never quite achieve the perfection my parents craved, how my father yearned to control me. I was a prisoner in my own home, even in a completely different part of the country. Pouting the moment my father’s long, shiny, company car pulled into the rental house driveway, I prepared myself for a terrible trip. Then you stepped out of the house next door and looked directly at me. I felt a zing when we locked eyes.
I could tell you understood.
You told me about the pressure to live up to the standards of your older brother. You didn’t think you would be able to compare. I thought otherwise. You explained how your father expected you to go to Vanderbilt, like him. How you wanted to go to art school instead. You didn’t know if you could stand to be such a disappointment. I understood.
We were the same person, in the same situation, trapped in different bodies. Yet somehow fate brought us together. Or maybe that was just luck. I don’t know what I would have done last summer if you hadn’t been there to keep me sane, to reassure me with sweet words of belief. Every evening when I brought the trash out, I relished seeing your smiling face peeking through the upstairs window of your room. Your lopsided smile was my favorite part of you, if I have to choose a favorite. Carefree yet timid at the same time, it was a constant reminder of your personality in all its shy, humorous, wry, and incredibly lovable glory. Some say that the eyes are the window to the soul. I say otherwise; it was your smile.
Of course, my father’s hair would have curled if he had known about all those hours we spent together. I knew enough to never breathe a word of you around my parents. I cared far too much to risk losing the opportunity to see you. During the day, we loved each other from an innocent distance: careful smiles exchanged through windows, polite “excuse me’s” as we accidentally-on-purpose brushed against each other on the beach. We were strangers to all but the most observant eyes.
During the night it was a different story. Tired of being chained by my parents’ rules and expectations, I possessed an inextinguishable desire to rebel. The need to see your face played a role too. I would wait until my parents had gone to bed, until I could hear the rhythmic breathing of their slumber. Then I would slip into a pair of flip flops, still clad in my pajamas, and sneak out the front door. It was a short walk to the beach, and the darkness was no match for my heart’s beating resolution. We always met far from the usually prime beach spot, preferring the quiet, uncorrupted dry place near the grassy hills of sand. You would lay out a towel in the area where it was impossible to tell where the beach ended and the dunes began. We used to sit together, entwined, until the wee hours of the morning. When the sun poked its restless head over the horizon, we would sprint back home and pretend to have slept soundly all night long. Thank goodness my parents never inquired as to why I was so tired every day; they would not have been pleased.
We talked for hours, yet it was never long enough. I shared with you the deepest secrets of my soul, and you understood me better than any other individual. Light topics always made it into our conversations as well. I was charmed by your easy humor and ruthless sarcasm; you made me laugh. You played your role perfectly, laughing at all my jokes (even when they weren’t funny), nodding at my serious remarks, and offering advice to my many problems. I would curl up in your lap, savoring your scent, and hope beyond hope that you would lean down and kiss me. Most of the time, you gladly obliged.
Then came the day you said three words that changed my life. Those three little words, only eight letters, made my heart dance inside my chest and flashed fireworks behind my eyes. I told you I loved you too, of course. Elated, I wrote our names in the sand with my finger. You took a stick and drew a heart around them. You loved me, and I loved you. All was right with the world.
I should have known nothing so good, so tender, could last long. Looking back, it was mainly due to my poor judgement. Or perhaps I was simply intoxicated with the knowledge that we were in love. Sitting on the beach with my mother and father, I saw you down the shore, trying to skip rocks. You weren’t very good at it, to be honest. Feeling brave, I stood up and made my way toward you. It was a crowded day and you were quite a ways down the beach. I assumed we would be beyond my parents’ view. Apparently, I thought wrong. All I did was stand beside you and take your hand in mine. It was an innocent action. We loved each other, after all. I regret now that I wasn’t more careful. My father saw us holding hands.
The next day, my family packed up early and departed for home. My father was angry. I had “betrayed him”, “lied”, and had become such a “disappointment”. The only disappointing thing about that day is that I didn’t get to say goodbye. I cried myself to sleep for weeks after that, hoping that would somehow bring me back to you. I yearned for a phone number or address of some kind, any way to contact you. However, I had none.
I haven’t heard from you since.
Now I am sitting on the same spot where we spent endless hours together. The only difference is that this time, I am alone. My mind replays every conversation we had here, all the kisses and giggles we shared. I wish you were here. Down by the water, I can see the spot where we wrote our names in the sand. Like countless sandcastles before, the waves have washed away our inscription. I hope I haven’t been washed away from your heart. I hope you followed your dream and went to art school. I hope that you learned to overcome the impossible expectations placed over your head. Wherever you are, I hope you are happy.
I haven’t forgotten you.