“What are you thinking?” asks a voice in the twilight, offering me an invitation to articulate my musings.
I flex my foot as my toes crest the surface of the water and shift my focus from the dark silhouettes of tall firs to the man who is soaking beside me.
“I was just thinking of how I ended up here,” I tell him.
Our eyes hold fast from opposite ends of a hot tub. The moon catches on his jawline and illumines the curve of his lips.
“I mean, I’m just a girl that you met on a beach,” I say.
I let the line drift, like I think it’s important. He pauses before he responds.
“We must have had very different experiences of that moment,” he says, almost in surprise, as if I’ve totally misremembered the encounter.
“Maybe,” I tell him, “but I’m not sure. I’ve told that story many times to a lot of people.”
His fingers grasp my ankle, then move up my shin.
“It sounds like you’re more interested in the story than the experience,” he says.
He is not a man of many words, or at least he tries not to be—this beautiful human submerged in the starlight, his hand on my calf, head tilted toward the sky—but this phrase is one that sticks with me.
He’s been more embodied than I since the day that we met, more aware of the air and the breath and the feel of the moment; less concerned with the narrative that played out between us.
But it was such a good story, I tell myself. How could I not want to see where it’d go?
March 17th was a Friday. I remember because it was Saint Patrick’s Day and I tend to acknowledge any reason to mark an occasion. I had just finished my taxes (early for once), and was coming off a week of arduous writing mixed with the latest spree of job applications. It was time for a break. Time for a beach day.
Weekday beach days are one of my favorite perks of freelancing. No crowds. No traffic. Just me and the water and all of those thoughts that never stop swirling in my head. I hadn’t showered for two days, but it didn’t much matter, since I always end up waist-deep in the water anyway.
I tossed my bags to the side, stood on the shore, and stared into the waves, trying to appreciate the wonder before me, trying to focus on anything but work.
“Looks like you’ve got something on your mind,” said a voice, pulling me back to the sand beneath my feet.
“Yeah, I guess,” I said turning.
A tan-skinned man in shorts and a white t-shirt approached my post and smiled. He had dark shiny eyes and the most beautiful teeth. Beside him was a black wolf of a dog who was gentle, but eager. We got to talking about the beach and the water and our respective desires to be present in the moment. He’d just returned from a week of white sands in Hawaii, and found the beaches in the Bay left something to be desired by comparison.
He was stopping at the shore on his way back from the chiropractor. I shared that I was a writer, obsessed with the ocean.
“You look like a writer,” he said. It may have been a line, but that didn’t much matter.
He lived in Redwood City. I lived in Oakland.
“How long are you on this side of the Bay?” he asked.
“Only just a few hours, then I have to get back. I have plans to meet some friends for a birthday this evening.”
“That’s too bad,” he said, scraping the sand with his foot. “I was going to ask if you wanted to grab dinner later on. Or go for a hike, depending on how much time you have.”
I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t. In the age of dating apps and online connections, I hardly know what it’s like to engage with a stranger, much less one who wants to engage back.
“I’m not sure,” I said, hesitating. “I mean, I already have plans with friends back in Berkeley, and there’s traffic, and I don’t want to back out of a commitment.”
This is what I told him, with large pauses between. What I didn’t tell him was that I smelled like the ocean and had planned to go home and shower; that I hadn’t packed underwear, much less a change of clothing or shoes, and was covered in sunblock without a trace of makeup. I also didn’t tell him that these things never happen—that men don’t just meet me and ask me to dinner.
He seemed to sense that I was fighting with myself.
“I’ll tell you what,” he said. “I don’t want you to feel pressured. Why don’t I give you my number and you can let me know if you change your mind. I need to go walk this guy to the end of the beach.”
The dog, whose name is Zen, started to nudge the man’s leg and whimper, as if on cue.
“Hey,” he said. “Settle down, Zenny. You’re going to have to wait if you want to see her again. Don’t you want to see her again?”
I handed him my phone and he added himself as a contact, handed the phone back, and walked down the shoreline.
I returned to my towel and considered my options. These were new friends I’d planned to see and we rarely spent time together outside of a scheduled small group. I desperately wanted real friends and this seemed like my best shot. On the other hand, I was curious about this man with the beautiful teeth and the big black dog—a man who met me wearing a ball cap and thought I was worth taking out for an evening. I’d met up with a few guys in the past couple of weeks, but they were all casual swipes that resulted in coffee. It was rare that I ever met someone “in the wild.” I wasn’t even sure how to feel about it.
Within 10 minutes, I’d picked up my phone and texted him back. Yes, I was interested, though I was stranded in beach clothes, so we’d have to make do.
Five minutes passed. Then 10. Then 15.
I thought maybe I didn’t have reception on the beach, so I tried texting a few friends. All of those messages went through. Something was amiss.
In no position to reflectively journal, much less meditate on the waves, I packed up my bags and walked down the shoreline, then headed to my car and checked my phone once again. Still, no message. I had one hour left before I’d need to head east if I was going to beat traffic and shower before Berkeley.
I detoured to Half Moon Bay, where I stopped in a parking lot and decided to try calling. I looked up the new name in my phone and tapped “call.”
The phone range once and then routed to an automated message: “The number you have dialed cannot be called or completed. Please re-dial the number…”
“Seriously?” I said to no one. “He gave me the wrong number?” Then I looked again and realized that were are only nine digits in the entry. The last one was missing. Or the first. Or the third. There was no way of knowing which was wrong.
At that point I probably should have dropped it altogether. Some things are meant to be, and some things just aren’t.
But because I’m a journalist and I like a good story (not to mention a nice smile), I decided to take the narrative into my own hands.