I’m lying alone on Rehoboth Beach. The hot sun is soothing, the warm sand provides an almost familiar bed. My water bottle is filled with straight vodka, and with each swig I feel my head growing cloudy. As I devour my worn copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the cover of which is now mostly duct tape, occasional sprays of salt water reach me, refreshing my warm body. It’s a perfect day, for the beach, for drinking, for enjoying the company of a good book.
I can feel my skin threatening to burn, so I sit up to apply sunscreen. After I’m thoroughly protected, I light up a cigarette and shield my eyes from the sun, scanning the beach. It’s a beautiful day, but other than a flock of seagulls fighting over spilled Boardwalk Fries several yards away, the beach is empty.
Reveling in my solitude, I dig through my bag and find the joint I packed. Once more I scan the beach along with the boardwalk behind me. The gulls have finished their fries and flown away. I am completely alone. I light the joint and take a long, slow drag, holding the smoke until my lungs threaten to explode. Exhaling I hear a laughter that is hauntingly familiar in the distance. I take another quick drag and tamp the joint out in the sand before tossing it back in my bag. Looking to my left I can vaguely make out the figures of a woman and young girl walking along the surf. Though they’re far away, I’m certain I know them.
The woman’s walk and laughter are familiar. The way the girl stops every now and again, marveling joyfully in her surroundings conjures up memories I’m not quite sure are my own. I see flashes of this girl throughout her short life. I see her, tiny and perfect, covered in afterbirth, taking her first breath. I watch her take her first cautious steps on shaky toddler legs. I feel her throw her chubby toddler arms around my neck, cooing softly against my bosom. I hear her in another room talking to imaginary friends. I lay in a child’s bed with her, listening patiently as she slowly works her way through Are You My Mother. Finishing the book she turns to me, and I can feel her soft blonde curls brush against my arm. She looks at me proudly with big brown eyes. Big brown eyes that look an awful lot like my own.
Coming back to the present I see the pair standing before me. My heart all but stops as I realize the woman is me, and the girl is the child I opted not to birth nearly 8 years ago. My other self watches me sympathetically as our daughter looks back and forth, obviously confused. The mother she knows pushes her gently towards me, and with some trepidation, she comes to me, taking my face in her soft hands, examining my features. Finally, she reaches into my bag and pulls out Are You My Mother.
“Read it to me? she asks, handing me her weathered copy.
“You know this one.” My reply catches a little in my throat.
“I want to hear you read it.”
She climbs into my lap and nestles against me. I breathe her in. She smells of sunscreen, Dolly’s saltwater taffy, and baby powder. Wrapping my arms around her, I open the book and begin reading her the words I know we can both recite from memory. My heart is racing as I turn each page, terrified she’ll find me out, but I manage somehow to keep my voice steady. I finish the story and she turns to me once more, searching my face for answers I do not have.
Finally she sighs and shakes her head. “You are not my mother.” She begins, “You are not even a snort. I do not know you and I do not want to.” and with that, she tears off down the beach at lightning speed.
My other self looks at me and shrugs. “She has a right to be angry. Maybe she’ll understand some day. Don’t worry, I love her enough for both of us.” and she takes off after our little girl.
Within a moment they are both out of sight, but their laughter echoes through the dunes.
I wake in a bed that isn’t mine, both groggy and alert. Making myself aware of my surroundings, of my current world, of problems that are not my own, my heart is physically aching.
I let a single tear roll down my cheek as I fight to burn her face into my memory. I’ve had some version of this dream every October for 7 years now. She’s always a year older. She is always beautiful. She is always angry and hurt by me. I dread it, but I also live for it. Once a year I get to see her, to hold her. Once a year I get a glimpse of the place in which she still exists. For a moment, I know that somewhere out there, she is okay. I cling to the hope my other self is right, that one day she’ll understand. One day she’ll forgive me.
There is help – and hope…
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