A Coastal Escape

seaside escapeDevlyn and her older sister Micah signed the escrow papers on a Thursday afternoon. Just like that, the house their parents lived in for half of their marriage was passed to another family.

Devlyn and Micah’s parents bought the house the year after Devlyn moved to Phoenix. Micah was married by then and pregnant with her second. Standing by their cars in the parking lot of the escrow company, the sisters kept telling each other it was weird to feel so sad about the sale of the house because it was not the house in which they grew up. Nevertheless, it was somehow home. And it was the home in which their parents lived the happiest years of their marriage (they reassured each other that it was only a coincidence those same years were the ones after they had moved out on their own).

The buyers were a very nice couple with teenagers who had been looking for the very same thing Devlyn and Micah’s parents had been looking for at the time: some place to finish raising their family, and then to grow happily old and retire in. Devlyn wondered if they also hoped to die there, as her parents wished. “They’ll have to take me out feet first!” her mother would sometimes joke. She got her wish. Ignoring the funeral home people’s request that the family go sit in another part of the house while they placed her mother’s body onto a gurney and wheeled her out to their van, Devlyn stood in the hall so she could witness them take her mother out the front door, feet first.

Months later, Devlyn and Micah learned through a friend of Micah’s husband the new owners’ plan to completely demolish their parents’ house to make room for a three story monstrosity. The giant cedar tree and plum tree would be felled to make room for the new house, a pool and “sport court.” The plans included re-graded in the entire property, which meant tearing out their father’s enormous garden. Devlyn couldn’t help how angry she felt. It was as if the new owners’ intent was not to build a new home in which to live, but to wipe all evidence of her parents off of the face of the earth; all evidence that they, as a family, ever existed.

After her mother’s death, the task of getting the house ready to put on the market fell to her by simple virtue of the fact she had been living there during the tumultuous months of both her parents illnesses, and because she ha only been working part-time so she could take care of her folks. It took four long months to get the place ready to sell–sorting through all their belongings in order to figure out what was to be kept, donated, passed on to a relative, sold at the estate sale or thrown out. Every closet, dresser, cupboard and box contained a lifetime, and with each container or closet or drawer of belongings she sorted through, Devlyn felt as though she was heaping a tremendous sadness on top of a life she was already pretty miserable about.

So, the plan was to get away for a while. Before plowing back into work full-time, the idea was to take just a couple of days close to the ocean. It was mid-summer and options were limited, but after a week of internet searches, she finally found one vacancy her budget could withstand.

What she found was not exactly a run-down hotel, but it wouldn’t have taken much more to make it that way. Its location just off the sand dunes more than made up for its otherwise dilapidated appearance.

Every bit of the unfinished wood façade was weather-worn, with an abundant moss growth that resembled seaweed. So much so, it looked as though the property spent much of its time under water during high tide. Devlyn’s room was decorated circa 1980, furnished with high polished oak furniture with those rounded corners you used to see so much of in those years, and pastel splashes of pink, blue and seafoam green on the bed covers and in the prints on the wall. It was clean, painted relatively recently, and featured a somewhat new microwave and bar refrigerator. The TV, however, was a very small, out of focus piece of ancient junk. She wasn’t there to sit inside and watch TV, so it didn’t matter, but it struck her as odd. The worst hotel rooms she’d had the misfortune to have to spend a night in at least had a fairly newer model TV.

She selected the top floor so she could take in as much ocean view as possible. Heavy grey clouds threatened to merge into a downpour, but the sun, in its full summer strength, forced its way through whatever breaks it found. It had been a wet and cool summer that year thus far, so the dune grass was still spring green. The gulls screamed and squawked almost non-stop and the surf was a constant roar. People slowly strode back and forth along the beach, seemingly as lost in thought as she found herself. Devlyn thought she could have sat on the deck of that room for her entire stay, content to just breathe in the soothing, salt-laden air, one slow deep breath after another.

The last time she was here was almost 20 years ago with a boyfriend from Phoenix, but the drive was longer than she remembered. She was cramped, tired and a little hungry, but it was too early for dinner. She grabbed the last handful of french fries from her take-out lunch and took a slurp of the warm soda she hadn’t finished, and set out on the designated trail through the grasses and marsh to the beach. The leisurely stroll she envisioned ended up more of a strenuous hike through soft sinking sand, and so, a little too winded to keep moving, Devlyn just stood in the place where the trail met the beach and took in the surf, the sand and the magic animated silence of the world on the edge of the ocean. The breeze wrapped damp, warm air around her like a blanket and Devlyn felt a gentle wave of calm move through her body she had not felt in years.

On the trek back to her room, she couldn’t decide if she would treat herself to a nice dinner that night, or wait until the next day. She popped in at the restaurant attached to the hotel and quickly decided that life is too short to waste a meal out on predictable diner fare. She got in the car and headed into town to see what might grab her attention, when Devlyn suddenly remembered a really nice place she and the ex-boyfriend discovered when they were here that time. She recognized it the second she saw it; a tiny place that had once been a small family grocers and soda fountain, just a ½ a block from the beach. It was strangely empty for weekend in summer. She asked if the annual Rodeo might be the reason (Devlyn had seen the banner advertising the rodeo at the fairgrounds that weekend strung across the main street on her drive through town). The waitress said they thought it was more likely people decided to stay in to catch the opening of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Devlyn didn’t much care; the quiet suited her needs, so she felt lucky. She ordered the salmon special and a split of white wine, opened the new book she’d brought along and settled in for the next hour and a half, thoroughly enjoying her dinner, finishing with a truly lovely cup of coffee and berry cobbler. It was a genuine treat.

She got back to her room in time to catch the opening of the games, but the crappy little TV was so awful she watched only as much as she could bear before switching it off. The sunset wasn’t exactly spectacular because of the cloud cover, but the view remained magnificent. She curled up on the bed and thought of her parents. This is exactly the kind of little get away they liked to take.

Devlyn woke at 3:30am in a panic. She sat up and for several minutes tried to catch her breath. She got up and went to the sink to splash water on her face, used the toilet, crawled back into bed and waited. Nothing was going through her mind except that she was frightened. A nightmare? She couldn’t figure out what it was. She listened to the surf. She closed her eyes and tried to remember a relaxation exercise a roommate had once taught her. Something about picturing liquid sunshine replacing the blood in your veins. Her scalp started feeling warm and then the bed covers felt too heavy. She sat back up, turned on the bedside lamp and waited. The feeling of anxiety lingered. She tried reading her book, but couldn’t concentrate. She picked up the hotel information booklet and was able to read that, so she moved on to the two tourist information magazines on the other bedside table and read those, then the courtesy copy of the local weekly newspaper and read it front to back as well. By then the first light of dawn had arrived. It was obvious she wasn’t getting back to sleep, so she got up, opened the drapes, the sliding glass door to the deck and let cool morning sea air pour inside.

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