You don’t want to get stabbed to death on Shank Beach. If you do, your death will, ironically, live on forever in beach lore.
Shank Beach is named after the body of water that winds inland from the bay and ends at a point, with the sandy beach spreading out from the tip of the water like spilled blood.
The shape of the inlet is, from the air, eerily like that of a shank, including a pinched middle about halfway to the shore, where the handle would have ended, and the thick part of the blade would begin, and the water once again pinching to the point of the blade at the introduction of the beach.
The number of times the sign directing you to the beach has been altered with an ‘R’ over the ‘N’ is in the hundreds. Shark, shank, either one conjures up potentially horrific consequences.
As I got out of the car, I cradled the brown bag in the crook of my arm as if it was an infant, a posture not lacking in irony. It was an almost protective gesture, designed to ensure safe passage. Inside the bag was a bottle of gin.
When I awoke that morning, I’d paused and looked at my unmade bed, which told a story. A tale that involved fierce wrestling with my demons during sleep. Twisted comforter,
wrinkled sheets. All that was missing were the ropes around the ring. There had been no referee overseeing what had clearly been a knockout.
Billy Faulkner, F. Scott, Eddie Poe, Leo Tolstoy, Tennessee Williams, Dickens, even Hemingway. All great writers. All suffered from depression. Great writers have a lot in common. One is the mistrust of coincidences.
“A good writer is an upright, walking sponge that absorbs through all available senses and, when squeezed, emits an enhanced, captivating version of what he has inhaled.
“A great writer does not need to be squeezed.”
Do you know who wrote that? I did. I could fucking write in my day, I’ll tell ya.
Somewhere over the dunes that bracketed the water, the sun was rising on the bay. I’d taken to coming down here in the early morning hours. There was a weathered, worn, fading white deck chair that, in my book, spoke more than the people who ever sat there.
I sank into it, sighing, watching the sun give its morning kiss to the sky.
Out of the bag came the gin. I took a swig. I once told a friend, also a writer, of my penchant for doing this, and he immediately brought up suicide, which has a rich tradition in my family.
He didn’t get it. Were I imbued with the drama queen gene that colors most suicides, I sure wouldn’t trek here alone, to Shank Beach, with a bottle of gin and a sad, sardonic smile. What a dingy way to leave this earth. Let’s hope my exit has better lines, better visuals, and an open bar.
I told him not to worry. I was taking the scenic route. Booze would get me, in its own time, at its own pace. I was merely along for the ride. A good friend gave me a collection of Hemingway’s short stories when I was a fledgling writer in my 20s. In it, he inscribed “Writers must read.” Then he handed me a bottle of whiskey and said, sagely, “Writers must also drink.” The man was a profit.
This morning was no different. I was agenda-less. It was often a fitful night’s sleep that drove me here to watch the day start its engine. I sat and drank and let my mind wander.
This morning’s regret-laden thought stream was about lost loves, the ones that got away. Or got chased away. I took a healthy slug.
She got me. Oh, not the obvious shit; the depression, the drinking, the occasionally brilliant flashes of writing. That was the front room, the opening hallway, the foyer to my house of cards. Everybody got that.
Kim knew who and what inhabited all the back rooms, the closets, even the dusky dungeon down below. She was the only woman I’d ever let see the truly dark stuff. She understood not only what was behind all that, but why I needed to store it away, to keep it out of sight.
The word demon gets tossed around too casually for my taste. In fact, it‘s been demonized to the point that I’d bet the devil himself has disassociated himself from the term. Read a rather intriguing definition of the word recently: “only in rare cases is the ancient rite of exorcism performed to cast out a troublesome demon”.
I remember setting the dictionary down and thinking, there are demons that aren’t troublesome?
Shit, my demons were, to a demon, insurmountable. Unconquerable. Unquenchable. They not only wouldn’t go away, I’d end up inviting them to stay, with ambivalence of course, like the card player asks Redford to ‘stick around’ in the opening scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
I’d grown to be at ease in their presence. Yes, they were comforting to have around, if only because of their familiarity. Often it took a drink or three to usher them into the auditorium, but they were faithful in their attendance and I became reliant upon their role in my life.
And they could be a convivial bunch, often taking on different forms and shapes, arriving each day, usually at the cusp of cocktail hour, outfitted as if everyday were Halloween.
There were the usual suspects, of course. The long departed Mom and Dad, the deceased brother and sister, the best friend whose death was a knockout punch, her resulting absence nothing short of outright desertion. Those were the regulars, a group that eventually learned to get along, grew to know each other’s drink, and how they liked it. And they were always welcoming to the fringe demons, the daily party crashers who barreled in unannounced, bellying up to the bar without invitation, smelling…what did they smell like? I would have to say they smelled ‘recent’. They were the John Belushi’s of the party.
Don’t your demons wear togas?
And Kim, bless her heart, never shied away. She understood. She knew I needed them far more than they needed me. Her role in this nightly debauchery was a supporting one, as she knew the entire party occurred in my head. Oh, she would pour drinks and mingle, her kissing of my mom and dad much like the crossing of swords, but this figurative world she knew was very, very real to me, and she played the role of co-hostess with just the right mix of empathy, and lion tamer.
Kim, of course, grew weary of playing the party host for Hell. She got a sizeable dose of the ‘healthy’ me. But it wasn’t enough.
It never is.
So, now my nightly cocktail hour, so benignly labeled, yet so rife with landmines, was a more risky dance floor upon which to twirl. I had no beautiful brunette to run interference, to fend off the drunken demons (a particularly evil lot), to kiss mom and dad in an effort to defang, to render toothless and feckless. Yes, her kiss could do all that.
“Once in every life
Someone comes along
And you came to me
It was almost like a song”
I stumbled to my car and was back home making a pot of coffee before anyone else had wandered onto the small beach. Only the locals knew of it.
I’d done what I do best in my final moments in the white weathered worn wooden chair. I distilled.
Distilled my life down to one word: Almost.