we were scheduled to leave during the wee morning hours of saturday, september 24, 2005. it turned out this was also the schedule adopted by hurricane rita to hit the already battered gulf coast... you remember that one? it was the category three hurricane that came hot on the heels of katrina.
so we pushed our schedule up and left during the late hours friday night. it was eerie driving through gas stations where evacuees had set up camp and driving through gas stations that had no gas and seeing awe-inspiring massive trees removed at the roots and other paraphernalia all willy nilly.
after gassing up every chance we got regardless of how much was still in the tank and gawking at the newly inflated gas prices, we arrived early saturday morning relatively unscathed. dad threw down at the waffle house before we found a target where we could purchase items left at the house in our hurry to escape. cheap beach towels were found at the always tourist-tacky alvin’s island.
considering i’m writing this ten or eleven months after the fact, my memories run hazy. i remember spending most of the day working (or, more accurately, waiting for work) while stealing away breaks on the beach. as always, we started each morning with a walk... going as far as we could down the beach in front of the old air force property until we were too tired to go farther and then realizing what a hike we had getting back. we made it a couple of times to what used to be a large, white bubble on the sand housing equipment that has since been dismantled by years of waves and beach erosion. i took many photos of what’s left. it would be the perfect place to hide for an entire day. most of my other photos involved either my feet or seagulls.
in the evenings, we frequently walked the other way... down by the condos and hotels where bulldozers were still trying to redistribute the sand to bolster the decaying beaches back up. the water turned a frothing soft jade in the twilight and everyone had showered for dinner and dressed in their t-shirts and shorts and their skin glowed red from the day’s sun. sometimes we would sit in our beach chairs drinking a beer before dinner until they ran us off.
not long before i left, i became enraptured with the veggie chips sold by whole foods. i quickly became disdainful of the things after accidentally dumping the better part of a bag of them on a recliner at the condo and then making the mistake of storing them in the fridge. as luck would also have it, i began feeling increasingly unsettled when i woke up in the mornings. it would clear up once i was able to drag myself into a swimsuit and onto the beach for our walk. but when i came back to the room and tried to eat those chips, i just couldn’t bear them. (and still can’t). it wasn’t until recently that i was unable to untie my tainting of this entire week from my encroaching morning sickness. i still get a bit queasy when i see that photo of the gulls floating across blue sky that was my screen saver.
dad and i spent most evenings at dinner. our traditional first night is always spent at godfather’s pizza followed by a trip to the neighboring grocery store. we also ate at the chinese buffet, the over-priced italian restaurant located on the bay, and a few others i can no longer dredge from my memory.
as a result of the aftermath of many hurricanes over the past several seasons, the sand was displaced and the beaches were eroding, but the shelling was ridiculously fantastic. so fantastic, it was boring. grand shells were all over the place. after a couple of days, we were so loaded down with shells that we started just leaving them on the beach. people would tell us we had dropped them. this year, my father reported similar windfall. once he’s saturated, he seeds the beach for the little kids walking after him. one old lady actually pushed a little girl out of the way to get to the ones he was discarding. some people don’t know when enough shells are enough. like my sister who brought home bag upon bag this year. WHO NEEDS ALL THOSE SHELLS?! mine are still packed up somewhere. i suppose because i’m not a giant-glass-jar-full-of--shells-in-the bathroom kind of person.
one afternoon, my father came running into the condo urging me out to the balcony. a waterspout had formed out over the ocean. the first i had ever seen. then, we watched as a second dropped from the clouds.
on our last night, we took a sunset trip on a mid-sized boat out of destin. there was concern there might be storms, so we stuck to the bay. we only saw brief glimpses of porpoises, but they were the only ones i’d ever had close up. you can frequently see them from afar as they jump from the water by the sandbar and they were rather playful during that week. i had only one beer. just in case. and one tampon in my purse. just in case. i had already stopped drinking coffee. after docking, we were just barely able to make it to dewey destin's before closing. it's basically a shack at the end of a rocky lane that sits on a couple of piers that serves seafood. i think i ate a brownie.
the last day, friday, was absolutely stunning. the frequently seaweed-plagued waters were crystal clear. all the hurricane activity had redistributed the sand so that you could walk for ages and through small pools and still find rises that were barely knee-deep. it was like a massive kiddie pool in the ocean. during an extended lunch hour, i luxuriated in a white-bright sun and small ocean eddies that made you feel you were in a bubble of beach and nothing existed outside of it... like a little beach snow globe. i never wanted to leave.
brian began to pester me increasingly about getting a pregnancy test. he didn’t understand the rhythm established by decades of vacations at ft walton beach. you couldn’t just pick up and drive off in dad’s blazer without igniting curiosity. and i wasn’t about to take a pregnancy test while on vacation with my father anyway. i did, however, at some point begin admitting to myself that, perhaps, something was awry.
my father and i arrived back in tyler on the first saturday in october. another day was spent poolside and i returned to dallas sunday afternoon. i visited brian during his shift at the sex shop where he pestered me some more. i insisted on waiting until the following morning to take the test. morning pee and all.
i think we all know what happens after that. with brian in his stained t-shirt, underpants, and socks. sleeping right through my morning of angst.
the storm on its way out on day 1. windy as hell. "sand storms" where the dunes used to be.
my view from the beach chair
my view from the "outdoor office"
a tiny portion of the shell haul
dad feeding the pigeons. i mean gulls.
one bird was a real mean bitch. another had a gimpy foot that was flipped underneath its leg.
ill-gotten gains dad pried off of that big tank.
what used to be a dune covered in sea oats making its way out to sea.