|photo by Juan Alvarado Valdivia, 2005|
The city was scorching, afternoon temperatures reaching the upper seventies (which is considered hot in San Francisco any time of the year). Paola suggested a trip to Baker Beach. She was a sucker for the beach, which I always found endearing. I was still reeling from the horrendousness of her birthday three nights before. I gladly accepted her invitation. I was beyond grateful for it. In the four months we had been together, she had already been witness to three instances in which I drank myself to a state of oblivion. A significant part of me felt I didn’t deserve to have a tranquil afternoon at a beach with my forgiving girlfriend.
While we drove through the city to Baker Beach in Paola’s sporty Mazda, I felt a sense of peace. Validation. I felt like a mangy mutt, picked from a pound, given another chance to prove it can be a good pet. As she drove, I held Paolita’s hand over the automatic shift. When I looked at her, wearing the big, round sunglasses she often wore, I began to believe I might have finally found the love of my life. Perhaps I had found someone who believed in me so much that she was willing to overlook those mad, drunken incidents? Those eruptions that helped to scare a few women away.
At the beach, Paola and I laid our blanket down among the couples and youngsters that had congregated there. We took off our shirts to bask in the sun. Paola wore a sporty bikini. She asked me to rub sunscreen on her back. I was eager to please. I angled my legs out like a scissor while she sat in front of me. When I finished rubbing the lotion onto her back and shoulders, I leaned over to kiss the back of her neck. She smiled and turned her head. We gave each other a quick peck on the lips. It was the kind of kiss that seasoned couples gave each other before saying something like “Bye honey. I’ll see you at dinner.”
Sitting side by side, Paola and I surveyed the beach as we ate the burritos we brought. We watched a dog chase a tennis ball into the waves. A boisterous group of hipsters ran about the shore, chucking a spiraling football into a group of their friends. Behind them, the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Peninsula loomed, beckoning to be photographed. Once we finished our greasy burritos, Paola and I took out our reading material from my backpack. We read to the sound of the lapping waves.
Though I had slept plentifully the two days before, I fell asleep with my body curled toward Paola. My copy of Bolano’s The Savage Detectives was tucked against my tummy. I awoke with a shiver. A cool wind blew over the beach. Paola was sitting cross-legged, reading The New Yorker. I sat up, rubbed my eyes, and asked how long I had been asleep.
“Like half an hour,” Paola said. “I didn’t want to wake you.”
I felt sluggish instead of re-energized. Must be the chemo, I thought. Finally doing a number on me. I rubbed her back and kissed her shoulder before I put my shirt back on.
“Are you feeling cold?” she said.
“A little,” I said, putting a forearm out to show the hairs that stood. She gave a chuckle.
“You wanna get goin’?”
“Sure, in a little bit. Whenever you want to leave.”
With my arms stretched behind me, I stared past the murky waves to the lush green Marin hillside across the bay. A blanket of gray clouds was blowing in. The beach had become half empty since I fell asleep. People were flapping their blankets free of sand, gathering their empty six-packs.
I turned to Paola and looked at her for a few seconds while she read her magazine. I leaned over and kissed her cheek.
“I love you, sweetheart,” I said.
“I love you, too.”