A Brief Period of Light

There were only a few balmy nights last summer, the kind that get under your skin, the kind that, if you’re young or young at heart, might seduce you into staying up all night on the beach next to a fire holding the one you are falling in love with.
The beach is where Sarah was one evening during that single week in July when the clouds dispersed and the temperature rose and a boy just appeared out of nowhere (on a kayak) while she was walking her pup outside her parent’s beach cabin.
If you’ve never felt that electric magic, or even if you have, I assure you it is magnified greatly by tender age, silky air, chance occurrence. Sarah and this boy, both twenty-one, were immediately drawn to each other and spent several days in a bubble of intense desire and hope.
He stepped out of the kayak that first evening and smiled at her so disarmingly that she let go of the leash and the dog bounded off, giving them a reason to take a moonlit walk/search together which culminated in their first bonfire and a very simple but powerful kiss.
Then he was off across the channel to wherever he was staying, mooning her on the way out in reference to that full moon, which, as Sarah tells it, gave his face (and butt) an ethereal glow.
Their next meeting, in similar fashion, picked up where they left off, and so went the next few days. He’d arrive by kayak, they’d walk, picnic, light a fire, talk and laugh for hours, and make out (and eventually make love).
His name was Will and he attended the University of Puget Sound, he was from Connecticut and was studying to be Psychologist, but that’s pretty much all of the surface details he gave away to her.
Sarah gave away somewhat more; she was helping her family run their Vacation rental B and B on the south end of the island. It was high summer season so there were plenty of anecdotes from the inn, but anyway, there were few gaping holes in the conversation with this couple. They were falling in love.
He said he was staying at one of the waterfront campgrounds and she had no reason to question that. He used a prepaid cell phone that was out of minutes so they never talked outside of meeting. His only mode of transport was the kayak so their entire world that week was that stretch of beach. He came every night for six nights.
On the seventh evening he didn’t come.
So jolting was this sudden switch from the new routine, so deep the emotions between them, Sarah knew his not showing up was nothing short of disaster, if not the end of it all-together. Her intuition seemed confirmed when another evening, and then another, passed without him. The gray sky had even returned, it was all very ominous.
By the third day, in a kind-of-numbness, and with plenty of tears, she convinced her dad to run her over to the campground in his fishing boat. But of course he wasn’t there, and nobody there knew who she was talking about. So that was that.
August had arrived and the inn was in high gear, so Sarah buried herself in work Normally congenial and friendly with the guests, she distanced herself by keeping her head buried in cleaning toilets or changing sheets. Even the empathetic looks from the new couple staying in the master suite couldn’t get her to come out of her grief/shell. But she did notice they had similar sad and weary expressions whenever she saw them in the dining area or hallways.
They were a last minute booking, from back east somewhere, a handsome couple. They’d never been to the island before but a family member had apparently loved it, so they’d decided to check it out. Most days they went into Tacoma on the ferry to visit somebody at St Joseph’s hospital. Not much had been divulged, but Sarah’s mother discovered their son was in a coma after suffering a brain aneurysm.
A week passed and the couple left. The father flew back home for work and the mother moved into a studio provided by the hospital to wait out her son’s coma. They had bonded somewhat with Sarah’s mother so there was a lot of hugging and tears and well wishing and assurances they would be back.
But nobody anticipated it would be quite so soon, and, unfortunately, for the sad occasion of their son’s death. Not three weeks later the couple arrived again to spend a few days preparing for and attending their son’s funeral.  This time there was less hesitance for all involved to share the grief.  Now the couple seemed practically family and joined Sarah’s parents in the daily goings-on of the inn. The mother in particular felt that moving about, keeping busy, helping with the inn chores and chatting up the other guests, helped with her pain.
Even Sarah was able to climb out of her own depression in reverence to the greater tragedy these other (very kind) people were experiencing.
Still, nobody made the connection during the entire period. Even when the couple loosened up a bit one evening over dinner and wine, to tell a short-version of their son’s affliction, the bells did not go off. Unbelievably Sarah and her father had left that dinner early, before the part of the story was explained where a fisherman had found the boy.  He was screaming for help from his beached kayak, in such agony he was going mad. Within minutes the man scooped him up and raced off to the Tacoma Yacht Club dock, where an ambulance was waiting.
He fell into the coma that very trip, and stayed there, even after the operation that night.
The other astounding part, discovered later, was that he’d emailed his mother just the day before, from a fellow camper’s I-phone, to say that he was falling in love with a beautiful girl on beautiful Vashon Island.
Sometimes grief is such a solid wall of pain it might as well be a brick wall, for all that it allows thru, which is nothing. Not light, not air, not sound.
On the morning of the funeral, held at the University chapel, Sarah left them alone and took a walk on the beach, doing some of her own reflecting on the summer’s events. She’d come to a sort-of peace with the disappearance, although she wondered whether she was kidding herself, or using a human survival mechanism, because the thing that bothered her most was the not knowing.
After the walk she went into the parents’ room to clean for the first time during their stay. They’d requested no service until that point, wanting privacy in their space, so Sarah had yet to see the photo. It was a beautiful framed photo of Will that was sitting on their bedside table. He was captured in his kayak, beaming his million-watt smile.
Sarah threw up her breakfast and fell to the floor.
But within minutes, and through tears that were oddly almost of relief, she pulled herself together, darted into her room to dress appropriately, and flew out the door to the ferry dock. After a short, nail-biting wait for the next boat, and the quick trip, she found herself in the foyer of the campus church amid dozens of students and others somberly filing into pews.
Towards the front she could see her parents with Will’s parents, preparing to sit. Will’s mother looked up and caught Sarah’s eyes and in that instant it was all connected.  The mother began to cry and held out her arms and Sarah went to her and they held each other tight.
The funeral told her much about this funny sweet guy she’d loved so briefly, and afterwards she met several of his friends and exchanged phone numbers and it was deeply moving for her.
But there had never been a more profound moment in her life than when Will’s mom gave her the urn the following evening, the first true beautiful summer evening since Will had died (or so it seemed to Sarah). She was to scatter the ashes along the stretch of beach where Will had spent his final week, his happiest week, with her.
Both sets of parents stood well back along the berm while Sarah and her pup repeated their walk of that first night. When they came to the place where she had dropped the leash as she first glimpsed Will, she dropped it again.
The pup took off, and so did Will, with the wind.

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