The following piece of creative nonfiction is part of a series I started on my personal blog a few years ago called “Alphabet: A History,” which is a collection of short, autobiographical vignettes, focusing mainly on relationships (familial, romantic, platonic, and self). I will be publishing the series on Fridays.
Alphabet, A History (F): Foster Beach
It’s May, and I’m 26, 27, 28, 29, 30 and Foster Beach opens up to me like an outstretched palm holding all the secrets of the summer ahead.
It’s June and Chad has just finished school for the year. He waits for me on his bike outside my apartment on Winnemac and I rush out, wearing a short black sundress over my bikini; I’m carrying a vintage boho bag Chad found for me at a tag sale in New England a couple summers ago, and I’ve got sunscreen in it, the latest In Touch, a couple bucks for some ice cream, and a hot pink batik tapestry I use as a beach blanket. Chad has remembered to bring a bottle of water and the transistor radio I gave him for his birthday the year before.
At Foster, we lie on our backs and stare at the blue expanse of sky and lake and inhale the summer. It’s 1 PM and we’ve got the whole rest of the day to do whatever we want.
“Remember the summer we became friends?” I ask still staring at the sky, “And we hung out on your deck every night and I kept trying to get you to kiss me and you just kept moving your furniture around and re-decorating instead?”
“If only I’d been a cute dancer boy or something…” I say,sitting up and grabbing the sunscreen to rub on my nose.
“DAMN!” Chad yells to the sky after a minute, “Wahoooooooooo!!!” He thrusts his arms in the air and throws back his head, bathing his face in sunlight.
I smile, flip on my stomach, bend my knees, bobbing my legs in the air, and pull a magazine from my bag.
Chad turns the dial on the radio and lands on “Spirit in the Sky.”
“Goin’ up to the spirit in the sky,” I sing, “That’s where I’m gonna go when I die/When I die and they lay me to rest/Gonna go to the place that’s the best.”
It’s July. It’s Nikki’s birthday and Chad and I meet her and Sam on Foster Beach. They’re finishing sandwiches from the Thai bakery on Broadway and Nikki holds hers out and asks if I want a bite. “Ew,” I say, holding my hand up, “Those things stink! How can you eat them?”
It might just be the only thing we ever argue about — these smelly Thai sandwiches. The summer before, on Nikki’s recommendation, I buy two Thai sandwiches with Drew on one of his earlier visits to Chicago. We keep them in their bag until we park our bikes and find a spot on the beach. And then, eager to taste the delectable treat Nikki raves about, we tear into the bag, only to gag on the stench and rush the sandwiches to a far-off trash can.
“Oh, they’re good!” Nicki replies, waving away my criticism and polishing off the last bite, “you don’t know what you’re missing.”
I’ve brought champagne and plastic cups and we toast to Nikki’s birthday. I suddenly wish I’d brought baklava from the Middle Eastern Bakery.
It’s August and Terry is in town with the kids for less than 24-hours en route back to Springfield, Mo.
“I drove the wrong way for 2 hours before I realized I was heading north and not south,” he says of his detour from Ohio.
“Lucky for us,” I reply.
In college, Terry is like an uncle to a bunch of us. Chad introduces me to him that summer he can’t stop redecorating his porch, and Terry entertains me with stories of Woodstock and San Francisco in the late 60’s and the Merry Pranksters. Sometimes the three of us go swimming in Fellows Lake. Sometimes Terry has us over to his little apartment on Walnut, which is unlike any apartment I’ve ever seen before. Stickers, album covers, newspaper and magazine clippings, tin foil stars, photos, and old postcards adorn nearly every inch of wall space. Even the ceiling is covered with stuff — with homemade mobiles, paper lanterns, and plants hanging from it lazily, gently swaying whenever a breeze blows through the open window.
A year after I meet them, Terry and his wife Mary move to a house, even closer to campus now. Mary is pregnant, and most of us can’t believe Terry is going to be a father. They have a girl in June and a year after that, I move away to Chicago.
On Foster Beach during Terry’s detour back to Missouri, we wade to our ankles in Lake Michigan. It’s night time and dark and Terry doesn’t want the kids going out too far. The next afternoon, I bike to the beach after work and meet Terry and the kids before they head home. They’ve been at the beach all afternoon waiting for me and now we have time for two songs and a quick dip in the lake.
Afterwards, as they pack up their rented 2007 white Maxima, I promise to keep in touch. “Maybe Chad and I will come visit one of these days,” I say.
“Oh sure, oh sure,” Terry replies, stuffing a bag into the back seat with the kids. They’re in a change of clothes, but still sandy from the beach, and look exactly how I imagine their parents looking at their age. “We will” I say, “sooner or later…We can’t stay away forever.” And it’s not until I say it, that I realize how much I mean it.
Four weeks later, when I leave Chicago for New York, I tell my friends I’ll be back before they even have time to miss me. “I can’t stay away from Foster Beach for too long,” I say.
And everyone knows what I really mean is I can’t stay away too long from them.