I didn’t catch his name. Our encounter was as pleasant as it was brief. With four miles under my belt, a cloudless sky and soaring heat, even at 7:00 a.m., my pace was quick. None of my walking buddies were able to join me, so I was alone with my iced coffee, iHeart radio and the rhythm of the ocean. I have a fairly hysterical internal conversation these days, and the banality of morning radio was precisely what I needed.
There was a steady crowd of walkers, from the very old to the brand-new-to-this-world being pushed by the young (to me, anyway) mothers creating an almost crowded sidewalk overlooking the beach. I uttered and received back innumerable “good mornings” and yes, I saw “my friend, the man whose name I do not know.” I arrived at a decision spot: keep walking straight or take the loop, adding probably a quarter of a mile to my stroll, when I saw another man whose name I do not know. It was just the two of us and we caught eyes. I removed one of my earphones, breaking my stride, making me aware of just how damn hot it was, and asked him about the feature you could not miss…his very long, very white beard. “How long have you been growing it?” I asked. Without so much as a beat, he responded, “Oh, this? (now two beats, three strokes of the beard) it’s been three or four days.” I smiled. He smiled. Clearly, I was not the first person to ask.
We chatted briefly, including my telling him that his beard was a great conversation starter. His reply: “Gee, most women wouldn’t agree” with a smile and more than a hint of loneliness. I told him he has great eyes, which he does. I did not tell him that he would be downright cute if he shaved it off. Feeling brave, I told him that I am a writer (aside: I kind of feel like a fraud when I say that, if you want the truth) and that I love to write about people I meet along the beach, or, for that matter, anywhere else, and would he mind if we took a selfie. His eyes and smiled widened as he agreed without hesitation. As we snapped the photo, he told me that he is actually a really shy guy. I would amend that: a shy guy with a sweet personality and, um, sweeter eyes.
We parted ways, and that was that.
I continued to walk, managing another three miles, congratulating myself on doing so in the blazing heat and got in my car where I guzzled the water that I had put over ice before I left the house (it was now just water) and checked my phone, having not looked at the picture. I was not disappointed.
I pulled away from the beach and asked myself if I wanted to go home and shower, or just head directly to the supermarket. I opted for the latter and, as I knew would happen, I felt the layer of sweat on my skin turn to a chill as I traveled the aisles of the store, trying like hell to remember if we needed milk, or if I had an ample supply of sea salt Melba Crackers. (Try them. You’re welcome.) Wondering why there were so many damn people there in the middle of the day in the middle of the week, I took my place in what looked to be the least long register line.
As I educated myself on the escalating battle between Angelina and Jennifer, and the surefire way to rock a bikini (yeah, no) I heard the chatter of a toddler and his mom in the line at the register next to mine. The mom, a pony tailed and adorably gap-toothed woman somewhere between mid 20s and early 30s held in her hand a box of animal crackers which had just been cracked open as, I would imagine, a reward to her son for not knocking over a display or running wild through the aisle or doing any of the myriad things that our children do to horrify, anger and embarrass us. My mother did it. I did it. I highly recommend it.
And then, without warning, the store fills with the earth shattering cries of a certain little boy in a shopping cart. His mother had done a horrible thing. What was she thinking? Yes, she ate one of the cookies. Oh, wait, to be clear: it wasn’t just any cookie…it was the one, the only one, that he wanted. And he was ripshit. No, another cookie, molded into precisely the same animal as the one she had munched would definitely not suffice. Nor, she learned, would a different animal all together. Or a cheese stick. It was a rookie mistake that we have all made. Never mess with a toddler and his snack. Like never ever.
So, the remarkable part of this encounter was this: the mom, who I have personally deemed mom of the year, never lost her cool. She was able, even in the throes of a real tantrum with real tears and real stares, appreciate how ridiculous and funny it was. She didn’t get flustered or frustrated or impatient. Her laugh was so honest and respectful of his upset. We caught eyes. She asked me if it gets better. I was the old lady now, the one with experience with this kind of thing so I told her what I tell every new parent: the days last for-fucking-ever, but the years fly by. We shared a smile.
I returned to my order, paid and looked back to see if she was still there. I saw mom and kid walking out of the store in the direction opposite of the way I should go to pack up my car. I paused briefly, considered the ice cream which I was sure was already melting, turned my own cart around and chased (in the least creepy way possible) after her. I caught up with them in the parking lot, the sun beating down on my sweaty body (remember those seven miles from earlier in the morning?) and said to her what I had said to my bearded buddy: “I am a writer and I love to write about people I meet” (this time the words slid out a little more naturally) and asked, for the second time this morning, if I could take a selfie of us. She, too, was quick to agree. We all smiled for the camera and off we went, but not before I got her email address so I could send her the link once I acted like a writer and wrote.
I finally made it home, assessed my sea glass haul for the day and showered. I now smell way better, have food in the house and am smiling at today’s chance encounters. This is fun…
p.s. In search of a clever artist who can make something out of all this damn sea glass. I simply cannot stop collecting it.