The beach looks like a battleground. Scores and scores of horseshoe crabs lay upturned on the damp sand, empty of the gills, the mouths, the legs that once made them alive. I am careful where I step, reverential as I would be in any graveyard.
Farther down, I come up on a shark head, 10 or 12 inches long, the color of the sand. I can’t tell if it was cut or gnawed from its body. I see it just in time to avoid, my feet jerking awkwardly away.
At the water’s edge a handful of dead shrimp, the color of mahogany, are clumped together, a mound of decaying flesh. Dark clouds move slowly toward the shore, a perfect pall for the horseshoe crabs. For the shark and the shrimp. For me.
The beach is normally my place of solace, of refuge. It is where the rhythm of the waves recalibrate the rhythm of my breath, my heartbeat. It is where my smallness and my unimportance become reasons for gratitude, where solitude and invisibility become strength. It is where I stare at the horizon and am reminded that all shall be well.
But not this time. Not today. Today the smell of the sea that so often mesmerizes me is overwhelmed by rot. Today the ragged black rocks of the jetty look like nothing so much as the half-submerged spine of a dragon. Today my feet keep sinking at the water’s edge, reminding me of all the things I have lost, all the things I am losing.
It doesn’t take long to recognize the emotion rising like the tide in my chest. It is resentment, different from simple disappointment in that, while both involve unfulfilled expectations, resentment (by far the more dangerous of the two) arises from a feeling of entitlement, a belief that what is expected is also deserved. Unchecked and unconfessed, resentment nearly always turns into bitterness.
Only hours later, not nearly enough time for the checking and confessing, I open my phone to see the news of the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting. I see the photos of the children holding honor roll certificates on the last day of school, just hours before their lives are extinguished by a madman. I watch the numbers rise with each new report. How can I feel entitled to anything when a small town in the hill country of Texas has had its heart ripped out? When parents and grandparents and brothers and sisters are mourning so deeply they cannot comfort each other?
The next morning it is time to leave. Time for the three of us — who have done this every year since 2011 — to pack our suitcases and empty the refrigerator and load the cars. Time for one last group hug, one last whisper of gratitude, one last promise do to it again next year.
The three of us met when we were only slightly older than the murdered children in Uvalde, children who deserved the chance to sit on the beach as 65-year-olds and remember what it was like to be a child, children who got the chance to marvel over long-time friendships, children who should have gone to college and fallen in love and had families.
Whatever weight I carry, whatever disappointment I feel, I carry and feel it as an adult. Any resentment I feel, that any of us feels, should be on their behalf.