Starry Starry Starfish

In years past, I’ve measured the success of a beach trip in books — as in, the number consumed while sitting prone on a lounge chair, covered (in more recent years) with towels, Diet Coke at the ready.

But this year I have yet to crack a page, and it’s already Day 5. I’m not even sure where Jesusland and Water for Elephants have gone.

That’s okay. I think I’ve decided to start measuring my success in reverse.

On this trip (someone said earlier today it’s the 24th time we’ve come to this room, overlooking the ocean, to blow several weeks’ vacation cash in a single week; I’ve missed a few over the years — to backpack in Europe, to sulk, to have a baby, to appease my husband who asked, “Why the hell are we going there AGAIN?”) I always break some of my personal rules, rules even more important than “read as many books as possible on a vacation”.

For example, I ignore the fact that for all practical purposes, we’re staying at a country club — a place where you rarely see an African American or anyone who looks like they might not “fit”, a place I’d normally pooh pooh as not my kind of place. The beach here is just too big an allure, rumored to be the only private stretch in California (these parts, anyway), where cabana boys and girls bring you cocktails and salads and umbrellas and ask if you need anything else.

What can I say? I’m weak.

The other rule I break has to do with the beach itself. I’m terrified of the ocean and everything in it (this either had to do with a rubber shark or a gamey fish stick, when I was very young, it’s a family debate as to the origin of the phobia) and yet again, the allure of the beach (moist sand, not totally dry, but with nothing in it like stinky seaweed or, god forbid, anything alive — taken care of each morning by the aforementioned friendly staff) is too much. I’m simply a hypocrite in too many ways to count.

I do take care to look down when I walk on the beach, lest anything remotely ocean-ish touch my feet. Last night I was glad for that habit, though not for the usual reason.

After we BBQ’ed on the sand, after the last s’more had been eaten and the sunset watched, Annabelle and I walked down the beach, kindly lit by the again aforementioned staff, to prolong expensive beach days.

“Hey!” I said. “Look at that. What do you think it is? Why don’t you pick it up?”

It was a small disc, perfectly round, sitting on the moist, smooth sand.

“It looks alive,” Annabelle said. “I don’t want to touch it.”

Determined to not show fear, I scooped the thing up in a handful of sand, careful both not to touch it and not to let Annabelle know I was completely grossed out.

Ray confirmed it was a sand dollar. I’d never seen one on the beach (of course, I’d never really looked, so who knows) and everyone agreed it was impressive. Annabelle was thrilled and I was delighted we’d shared the moment of discovery.

Until….

“Um, I think it’s still alive,” Ray said, staring down at the thing, now resting on the reservation card from the dinner table.

SO? I thought to myself. I didn’t say anything.

“Oh,” Annabelle said.

“You know, Annabelle,” Ray said gently, “you and I could go out and throw it back in the ocean, and it could live. We don’t have to. But we could. It’s your choice.”

She thought about it for a while, then took Ray’s hand, and they went outside.

I told Annabelle she’d have good karma. (Not sure about mine.)

This morning, Annabelle and I went for another walk. We found several pieces of (definitely dead) sand dollars, and even a real quarter, which we placed in the hot pink hat Sophie refused to wear. I called over to Annabelle at one point, excited by another hunk of sand dollar I’d spotted, but she wouldn’t come. She was calling to me, even more excitedly.

“Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, COME HERE!!!!!!!!”

So I did. And there on the sand was a teeny tiny starfish.

“Is it still alive, Mommy?” she asked, really hopeful.

Screw karma.

“No, sweetie, it’s dead,” I answered. And I scooped it up with a generous handful of sand between the starfish and me, and carefully placed it in the hat, where it sits now, in our kitchenette.

No one could decided (in the moments before its return to the sea) whether to name the sand dollar Sandy or Dolly, but the starfish was immediately dubbed Twinkle.

“Did you put it in water?” Ray asked when he called, just done with a hike, and I told him about it.

“No,” I said, “it’s dead.” (Well, it is now, I thought.)

I confessed to my mom.

“You did the right thing,” she said. “It’s not like the thing has a mother who cares about it.”

I love my mom.

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