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The Strand Bench MAG
I unfold the Carl's Jr bag and take out two cheeseburgers, two fries, and too many packets of ketchup. My dad looks at the packets and chuckles while he takes a sip of his Diet Coke. Evening joggers and dog walkers pass by, probably looking down on our fast food, but we don't mind. It's not as though the fat we eat is riding low on our stomachs. He hands me my Dr. Pepper, and I chug until the carbonation stings my throat.
The sun is on the brink of falling beneath the horizon, an orange glow lighting up the coast. I curiously look at the three-story mansion behind us and see our shadows sitting on the bench on the strand. A group of tourists stop and take a picture of themselves in front of the magnificent sight. They're probably the kind of people who take their picture holding up the Hollywood sign. My dad notices me staring and turns to watch.
“Might as well stamp ‘tourist' on their foreheads,” I say, and he laughs.
“Not something you see every day,” he replies, turning his attention back to his burger. The orange glow is beginning to fade as the sun sinks to the size of a muffin top.
“If I were a tourist, I'd try to be subtle about it,” I say. He purses his lips tightly.
“Life's too short to care about what other people think. You might as well not live if you live for everyone else,” he says.
I don't speak for a while, just watching people walk, strut, and jog by. I wonder what kind of people they are, what kind of lives they lead. A young man walks past with a cell phone to his ear and gripping a dog leash. He seems frustrated with the person on the other line.
“Isn't that everyone's problem, though? We're afraid to be alone, so we hide the craziest and realest parts of ourselves,” I say.
Dad looks at me closely with narrowed eyebrows, deep in thought. “Is that what you do?” he asks.
I sigh. “And yet I feel alone most of the time,” I reply, taking another sip of soda. The ice has diluted it, but I don't mind.
“You don't have to feel alone,” he says quietly. The sun has now vanished, to show its face to another side of the world, the side that has been asleep and dreading daylight breaking through their curtains.
“It's easier to be alone. You aren't judged by who you associate with, and you don't have to remember birthdays … but when I see two best friends drinking milkshakes downtown, or an old couple walking their terrier – that's when I don't like being alone,” I explain.
He doesn't seem to know what to say, looking off at a lifeguard closing up the tower for the day and driving off in a beach cruiser. I have a familiar feeling – the kind I get when I say something I've been repressing and it surprises me.
“I was very independent too when I was your age. Loneliness consumed me, because I thought it was what I deserved. But now that I look back, I realize that I missed many opportunities because of it. Maybe you're good at being alone, but can you say that it makes you happy?” he asks.
I slowly shake my head, my throat becoming dry as my eyes absorb all the moisture. Dad puts his arm around me, and I lean into his chest as the breeze dies and everything is still again. No one walks by, and our shadows no longer shine on the house behind us. The sky is darker than it was a minute ago, and one cloud drifts where the sun had been. We sit as still as the air, holding each other close in this crazy world.