I grew up a twenty-minute, windows-down drive to Lake Michigan. Close enough where my family and friends and I could, in a second of spontaneity, decide to spend a few sun-kissed hours lounging in the sand or splurge on a day-long blistering affair.
I’m so lucky, right?
But if I’m being honest, I kind of hate the beach. If I must go to the beach in the summer, I prefer going before 9 a.m. or after 7 p.m. You know, with the runners or the couples.
Which is a little awkward because I’m neither of those things.
But anyway, if I’m being completely honest, I don’t prefer the beach in the summer at all, but in the dead of a cold, Michigan winter.
A couple of weeks ago, however, I feel an urge to go to the beach. And when I get out of work early last Friday and still have that desire to go to the beach, I go. In the middle of a scorching summer day. And for a couple of hours, I’m miserably content.
Upon arrival, I fight the breeze to lay my towel down, and I hear the little girl next to me say, “The sand is so hot it’s cold.”
Personally, I feel like I’m standing on burning coals, so I wonder if I should tell her to go to the ER to check her nerve endings or something. You know, just in case the sand fried them.
Instead, I lie down on my towel to read and feel my SPF 50-tinted sweat drip off me like wax, and, wouldn’t you know, that same little girl swings her racket, misses her target, and hits me with a tiny, blue ball. Right about the same time a middle school boy runs past me and kicks sand in my face.
So I give up. I put my book down and journey to the water.
It takes me about ten minutes to summon the courage to wade out waist-deep, where I stand and shiver in what I’m convinced is the puddle of a recently-melted glacier and watch little kids belly-flop into the water and scream, “DOESN’T IT FEEL GREAT?”
Yeah. The same way hypothermia feels great.
But you know what gets me? I used to be that brave. I watch these kids dunk their heads in the water without any reservation, and I wonder when I became a coward. An old, don’t-wanna-get-my-hair-wet, beach-hating coward.
So I count to ten. I start counting in quarters at about seven, but, eventually, I make it to ten, and I know I have to keep myself accountable, so I go under. I only last a few minutes out there before I go numb and start longing for that sweat-soaked towel I left in the sand.
On the brightside: I can’t feel my feet so the sand doesn’t burn anymore. Maybe that little girl was onto something.
But as I reach my towel, I also hear that little girl beg for one more hour at the beach.
I find her enthusiasm incredulous.
So I start scanning the beach for allies. People of the same species. People who have that same love/hate relationship with the beach that I do. I think that anyone in a T-shirt is a probably, and that old man wearing jeans is a definitely.
I smile at him, but I don’t think he sees me. He’s too busy trying to avoid looking at anything touched by sunlight.
I check the time and tell myself that, for dignity’s sake, I have to last at least another half-hour, but just as I close my eyes and start to try to enjoy the sun, I hear it.
I think: Oh no. It’s probably a summer camp. There are gonna be middle school students raging all over this beach.
I close my eyes tighter and brace myself. When I finally summon the courage to look, I realize I’m wrong.
It’s not summer camp. It’s worse.
It’s band camp.
And those aren’t middle school students storming the beach; those are high school students charging the shore.
Hundreds of them. With towels flapping behind them like capes and water noodles bared in front of them like swords.
A Lake Michigan traitor wastes no time: I take only what I can carry and desert.
Cassie Westrate (’14) graduated with a double major in writing and international development studies. She currently lives in West Michigan, where she works as a writer, hangs out with her pet bird, and fights crime by night. Just kidding about the crime.