Preface, Part One: A Boy at the Beach

Imagine a young boy. He is lying on his bed, wide awake at a time he should be sleeping. He is both looking and listening.

He is looking around his room, currently illuminated by the flickering of a still-on television. The set lives in a nook high above the small twisting staircase that connects this secluded barely-pubescent bachelor pad to the rest of the rented beach house. Too high to reach before the two more growth spurts the boy still looks forward to, the television could only be turned off in two ways. The boy could find the remote, which he has already ruled out as impossible. He could also climb up onto the railing, jump up, hit the off switch in mid-air, and land safely feet below on the plush white carpeting. The boy has also ruled out this option. He tells himself it is to not wake his slumbering friend, Zack (who, by the way, he thinks fell asleep on top of the remote, although the constant flickering does not give him any hints of a black rectangular shape as he scans his friend’s bed). But he at least partially knows it’s really because the idea of such an acrobatic endeavor is just simply, well, scary.

The boy truly loves Zack, and a large part is his admiration of his friend’s ability to do scary things. He knew if the situation was currently reversed, Zack would perform the necessary acrobatics with ease. Zack is the one who, a few years ago, fell out of a window due to leaning on a screen too hard, and a few years in the future, would break his hand while jumping for a fly ball at the fence. But the fall wasn’t scary — Zack would tell the boy it was a bit peaceful even — and the jump was simply doing what was necessary for his team. Zack never flinched during scary movies, easily flew by “do not enter” signs, and always eagerly took up the opportunity when dared by the boy to try out an even more ridiculous new pick-up line on the boardwalk. When dared by Zack, the boy always had to fight a lump of hesitation in his chest. The boy felt like Zack never had his own lump.

Except, of course, when it came to the ocean itself. The boy feels at home swimming way out past the waves alone, watching the people grow smaller and smaller on the shore. He loves the feeling of the sun on his face as he floated on his back, bobbing up and down, being carried away by the current. He becomes an epic hero when facing down waves three times his height, leaping into them in an attempt to stay upright, constantly being thrown down onto the rocks, yet always finding his feet once more. Zack, of course, joins him, but never stay in the water as long (a bit scrawnier than the boy, Zack would claim he simply got too cold). Zack never swims out as far.

These thoughts make the boy smile at his friend but, after one more halfhearted attempt to readjust the position of his pillows, continue to lay still with his eyes wide open. And so the boy concentrates more on his other current activity: listening to the waves. He tries to calm his mind by focusing on the repeating pattern of the water slapping on the shore, leaving behind old objects while taking back others that it once had.

Suddenly, the boy stands at the back door right at the bottom of their stairs. He looks up and sees the flickering lights. He looks down and notices his swim trunks are on and a towel is draped over his shoulders. He suddenly feels the lump in his chest. What is he doing? Why doesn’t he wake up Zack? Is he idiotically trying to prove something to himself? But the boy ignores the lump, slowly opens the door (knowing any awake adult would end whatever he is about to do), and finds himself out in the brisk salt-tinted air. He keeps his head down when walking past the windows on the side of the house, turns right at the sidewalk, and heads straight towards the ocean. His feet continue to pull him forward, his mind not a part of the process. He passes the house next door with the seashell banner, the bed and breakfast with three cat food bowls on the deck, and the empty lot. The ocean has grown from a whisper to a conversational tone. He passes the back of the amusement park. The ocean is louder. The front of the arcade. Louder. The boardwalk itself. Louder The sand dunes, the lifeguard chair, the lip of wet sand. Louder, louder, louder. He tosses his towel behind him.

The lump matches the volume of the ocean. So the boy finally thinks why he is here. Would it help him get to sleep? Doubtful. Is it in any way a smart idea? Certainly not. Could someone walk up at any moment and get him in trouble? Definitely. He thought, again, if he is simply trying to prove something to himself. Once he figures out that he is, he thinks, he knows he will turn around.

But the boy finds his thoughts unhelpful. Yet he finds another type of voice in his head. It feels different than a thought, as he does not think there are words to put to it, let alone logic to explain it. It feels like an emotion, with a specific driving force. It must be what led his legs up to this point. And leads them to take a few more steps. The waves continue to come. His lump screams out when each hits his chest.

With the lump so great, he needs to communicate with this object that speaks in a language he does not yet know. But the boy cannot figure out how to do this. So the boy stops questioning, although he does not know why. He looks both around and inside and knows he is radically alone. But with this new voice, he is not lonely.

Another wave approaches him.

The boy takes the dive.

That night, he sleeps as soundly as he ever has before.

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