Ocean Watching

We drive in three cars, west, towards the ocean, then south, along the ocean. The white SUV leads the way. There’s a sticker on the back windshield, bottom left corner. Three happy stick figures, outlined in white against the black glass. Boy, girl, boy; their family. But we’re three cars driving now, and we traded a girl from theirs for a boy from ours, and there are three boys- cousins, brothers- in that SUV.

Minivan in the middle, we’re grandparents and parents, aunt and daughter, nieces, cousins. That SUV is all boys, one aunt. We’re all girls, one grandpa; Papa, we call him. Behind, third, last place, there’s another SUV, but a smaller one. Matching girls in coordinating pink booster seats, parents in front seat, passenger seat. We’re all going the same place, but third place, caboose, drives last and arrives last, sees last.

See the rolling hills on either side of the road, the blue above, streaked with soft, thin white clouds. See the ocean, later, as it slowly stretches into view. See the beautiful and the bright.

But they don’t see the turkey.

It’s two lanes, two way, and the sun is bright, yellow-white on the fields and trees that line the highway. Middle car, middle row, we’re leaning forward in our seats, Grandma in the front leaning back, meeting in the middle to chat. I’m leaning, my eyes unfocused, half-watching the grey road that stretches far in front of us. But then there’s a flash of movement, the white SUV swerves suddenly, slightly, and now we’re all watching the road. There’s a turkey there, in the space between us and them. Half flying, half running, we’re yards away and moving fast. Papa slows, swerves, the turkey flaps, hangs in the air in front of us. We lean forward, hearts pounding with adrenaline. I brace myself, hands gripping the side of my seat, waiting for the impact of plump bird on minivan.

We miss the bird. Barely.

Gasping, laughing too fast, too exuberant, the way you do after something was nearly very bad, we shriek, exclaim over our almost- bird collision. We pull out phones from where they had been temporarily forgotten on laps, in pockets, and we text. In front, the white SUV, the guys, they’re relief-laughing, too; they saw the whole thing. Behind, I text the mother, capital letters and emojis spelling the nervous energy that’s still pounding through my veins, but she’s confused, didn’t see.

We almost died, I tell her. WE ALMOST HIT A TURKEY.

She’s nonchalant, soaking up the sun, letting the Californian coast soak her up, and I let my phone slide to my lap again. I watch the ocean come into view, deep blue and green alternating in long lines that run along the coast; yellow-gold rocks jutting towards the sky at odd intervals along the sand.

We drive, still, and soon the ocean fades from view temporarily, and we’re in the midst of oceanside city traffic, and my eyes wander over the cars that surround us. Families, couples, individuals. Professional, elderly, tourists, locals. I’m watching them all and seeing not nearly enough, and then we’re snaking past the aquarium, past Cannery Row, rolling slowly between those two SUVs. We’re on the coast. The ocean moves gently, slowly, in soft waves that crash against the rocks, pull sand back with them with every beat.

It takes time to park; three vehicles on a busy, beautiful Saturday are not easily stowed, but then we’re climbing out of the van, stretching arms, breathing deep of the wild, teasing ocean wind that whips our hair out of place and seems to bring the joy and excitement of the ocean along with it. There’s a rock wall stretching along the street, overlooking the ocean. Beyond, yards below, is the sand and the rocks and the waves. Leaning over, the boys are there already, long legs, tennis shoes scaling the huge rocks.

Furthest away, where the rocks drop to the ocean, they’re standing still. Watching. They watch the line where blue sky meets blue water. They watch the clouds skirt and bump across the blue above, moved by the same wind that tangles our hair, tugs at our sweatshirts. They watch the waves roll, gathering momentum, height, as they rush closer and closer to the shore. They watch the ocean, and for a moment, we stand there above the water, between cars, bustling street and the deep, rolling ocean, and we watch them.




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