Thursday, October 16, 2014

The View

I'm taking a writing class and re-working some of my old stuff. Here's the one I read in class yesterday.

I spotted them from a distance as they trudged down the terminal, my dad with his hunched shoulders, tilting toward the ground, his ever-present determined grimace on his face and my mom, also sagging a little, fighting to stay upright.  He was rolling his carry-on, and my mom was carrying three mis-shapened bags with her outstretched arms as they clanked against her legs with every step she took. Their hair was rumpled, and I saw my mom reach up with a bag slung over her shoulder to pat her hair down. They must have napped on the six hour flight from New York.  

I put on a bright smile. We waved to each other.  “Hi, Mom, hi, Dad!”

As they approached, I could see how they had changed in the six months since Christmas.  A little more shriveled, a little more haggard, a little more faded.  

When they crossed over, I took one of my mom’s bags from her and slung it over my shoulder. I took the other and draped it over my dad’s carry-on. 

“No, no, we can manage,” my dad said, as he resisted my tug. 

“No, Dad, it’s ok. Here, I’ll take it.” 

I let him keep the last bag as we strolled out of the terminal. 

“Did you check any bags?” I asked.

“No, this is everything. They charge you now for checked bags, did you know that? Fifty dollars a bag! Why would I pay fifty dollars for them to put my bag on the plane?”

We walked to the parking lot. 

Once in the car, I told them the itinerary that I had mapped out months earlier. First, a drive to Half Moon Bay to show them the best view out here, then Sunday brunch at the Top of the Mark overlooking the city, then a quick stop at my studio in the Marina before driving them to the hotel in Sausalito perched over the water to spend the night before they headed back to New York the next day in time to open their dry cleaner’s by Tuesday morning.  It was their first trip to my city and their first vacation in over fifteen years, and I wanted to pack in as much as I could. 

“Mom, I think you’ll like Half Moon Bay. It’s so grand. So different from the beaches in New York…”    

"But what about all the food I brought for you?” My mom said. “We should put them in the refrigerator right away…”

"Oh, Mom, we don't really have time to go by my apartment first. I thought we could fit in Half Moon Bay before our reservation…”

"What if it keeps leaking?"

"What if what keeps leaking?"

"The kimchi. It was leaking on the airplane and the stewardess was giving us funny looks. I think the other tupperwares are ok..."

"Oh, you brought kimchi?"

I stepped out of the car and wrapped the containers in plastic bags. 

Then I started driving us across CA-92 toward the California coastline. 

It was just minutes into the drive when I saw the fog. Looming in the distance, a swath of white stretching out like a runway across the expanse of the horizon. It looked as vast as a tundra, as impervious as a prison wall.  Even from a distance, I could see how quickly it was rolling in, charging toward us, like a belligerent battalion, rearing to fight. 

It’s the same fog I had seen year after year of living in San Francisco. The same, predictable, summer fog. In my planning, I had somehow forgotten to consider it. 

As we drove closer, I could see it amassing, growing thicker, wider. It was stampeding angrily across the sky. Its silence was deceptive; it should have rumbled. 

I found myself driving faster. I wanted to beat it. I had my plans. I had mapped out exactly how the day should unfold.

As we neared the town at the edge of Half Moon Bay, I could tell I was losing. The entire town was enveloped in fog, and there was white haze in every direction. My parents stared out of the window to find what it was they were supposed to be seeing. Fine mist bombarded my windshield, and I turned on my headlights to find our way to the coast.

I turned right onto Cabrillo Highway and entered a parking lot. We opened the car doors, and a gust of wind rushed in. When we stepped out, the wind slapped our cheeks and whipped our hair. We turned our backs against the wind to catch the front flaps of our jackets and zipped up to our chins. 

When we turned to face the ocean again with our arms folded across our chests, all I could see was a stubborn swath of fog across the entire stretch. No vision, no vista. No ocean that stretched out endlessly, the way it had revealed itself to me countless times when I had come alone. 

For the next few minutes, we stood in the midst of this invasion, shivering and bracing against the wind as we stared at the white fallout. I’m not sure what we were waiting for. Perhaps a break in the fog, a ray of sun, a sign of mercy.  But we just got colder and colder, and the view, no more apparent.   
I felt tears coming to my eyes. I felt taunted, betrayed. I breathed slowly to give disappointment time to settle. 

“What a shame,” I said. “The ocean here is so beautiful. I wanted to show it to you. Usually, if you look this way, you can see these amazing cliffs, and there, by the cove, there are usually so many surfers, and if you look south, you can sometimes see as far as Big Sur…” 

My mom, huddled in her hooded red parka, turned with each direction I pointed out, even though her view remained constant. And as I talked, she nodded along to my words. 

After a couple of minutes, with her eyes still gazing out into the distance, she reached out, held my arm, and said, "I imagine it is very beautiful."

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