Where Life Is

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(Photograph by Judy Rolfe)

I woke up to the sound of my mother’s slight  Southern drawl whispering, “Get up, baby.” Her small, strong fingers rubbed my shoulders. It was dark and the moon beams cut through the bamboo shutters in the bedroom where we slept. A fan hummed next to the bed, breaking the summer heat.

I groaned. “No, mama. Sleep.”

She laughed. “But you’ll miss it.”

“What?” I asked.

“You’ll see.”

Bo was easier to rise. Me, her stubborn child who drew every moment of sleep out like it would be my last.

She slipped light sweaters over our toe-heads, her toned brown arms wrapping us in a three-way embrace. It was cooler outside of the house than I thought it would be. I was happy for my sweater and rubbed my sleepy eyes into its worn sleeves. Crickets chirped all around us, singing mating songs in three-quarter time. I had just learned to read music at church. Nature now taught me beyond the stained glass and cloth-draped pulpit.

Mom took our hands. We set across the drive, broken oyster shells popping under our feet. The stars were bright and the moon full. The sun began to break over the barrier islands east of our little harbor town. Wachapreague, Virginia. The Little City by the Sea. Population maybe 500.

We walked in silence towards the marina. Mom threw her head back at the moon, as if she might swallow it whole.

We stopped inside of the bait and tackle shop for juice. The cashier slipped two Cow Tails into the brown bag, winking at me and Bo. We grinned back at him.

Fisherman readied their boats for the day, their vessels rocking in morning high tide. We lived by the tidal report. The marshes where we played were off limits at high tide, when an unexpected swell could carry us out of the channel and into the Atlantic. Out legs were too small for the occasional trough of thick pluff mud left by low tide. We played in between the tides, pretending to be pirates, watching for jellyfish and water moccasins.

We settled onto a be chat the furthest end of the marina, near the pulley where men would raise the largest catch later in the afternoon. My stomach heaved with curiosity and fear whenever a bull shark was pulled from the channel, the town pointing and gaping at the prehistoric creature dangling from chains, blood spilling down its slick, cool belly.

I nestled my head in between my mother’s collar bone and breast. She smelled like salt and slights hints of the honeysuckle bush that grew near our front stoop. The sun swelled higher over the horizon line, turning the sky a bright red. Motors kicked around us and the remaining boats chugged out to sea. I sucked orange juice through the gap in my teeth. I was tired and happy.

“Aren’t you glad you didn’t miss this, Woogie?” Mom asked, the sky spilling yellow onto her tanned face.

I nodded yes. Bo dozed in her lap.

“This is where life is, baby. Don’t wait. It is here, right now. Waiting for you.” We stayed on the bench for a few more moments before turning home for breakfast.

There are many memories stored in the books and volumes of our minds. Most are replaced by newer memories, or amended to cover pain, or simply forgetting with the inevitable march through age. But some stay with you always.

This is where life is, baby. Don’t wait. It is here, right now. Waiting for you.

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