It’s 10 PM Wednesday night, and I’m trying to put words to the numerous high points from another lovely weekend. It should be easy: it felt like a perfect beginning to the end of a pleasant summer.
The words aren’t coming because when I look outside our tiny bubble, there’s another summer swirling around us that I can’t reconcile with ours. That summer is menacing, intrusive, and insistent. That summer is also very near, just a tab away. As I write, in another tab the Missouri paramilitary has given a “second final warning” to peaceful protestors in Ferguson. In another tab, 49 years ago, the Watts riots rage. In a rectangle to my left, citizens of Gaza are offering tear gas advice to Missourians. This is how it’s been all summer, tab after tab, grisly realities from a beach in Gaza, a Syrian war zone, a Staten Island bodega. Presiding over these polygons is me, powerless, able only to give attention. The best I can do is hit RT over and over and over and over.
11 PM, I decide on a photo to use for the post. The photo of Charlotte on the beach evokes both summers for me, both joyful and haunted. Long Beach and Gaza, connected by an image of a kid on a beach—a summer of stark contrasts and uncomfortable connections. As I look at the photo more, I struggle to come to terms with these contrasts, to figure out a world where the beach represents both joy and death.
This is the best I can do: I admit that I’m very, very late to this “two summers” realization. The world’s lousy summers have been going on for years. And I acknowledge my powerlessness, even from a position of privilege, against a tide strong enough to span generations. I see now that these will be Charlotte’s problems, too.
Now it’s midnight. Charlotte wakes up and pads out here, rubbing her eyes, confused that I’m sitting alone at the table. She’s taken to wearing an old tank top of Maggie’s to bed because it feels like a fancy dress. She’s thirsty, so I get her a glass of water and walk her back to bed. I assure her that the glass was on the windowsill next to her bed if she wakes up thirsty again. I tell her I will stay with her until she falls asleep, and I do.
As I watch her breathing regulate, I remember our day at the beach. I feel her weight in my arms as we waded out—she can’t swim—and I feel the undertow trying to pull my feet from under us. We wade out farther, the water up to my armpits. The surf is as high as I’ve seen; we toe the line between fun and fright.
Charlotte turns over and lets out the little sigh she makes right after she’s shut her eyes.
The ocean suddenly feels bigger. And still, I feel lucky to be in it, to witness the waves, and to hold Charlotte above the break while salt floods my eyes.