My buddy Lisa and I went to West Beach in Laguna today where we sat in the sand at the water's edge for most of the day - she under the sun and me under my umbrella. Aside from enjoying the droves of beautiful bodies there and the warm sunny day, we also had a mission. Les died five years ago this weekend and although I had scattered most of his ashes in various places around the world, I still had a small vial of them that I had been holding onto. I wasn't sure what I would do with these remaining few ashes but felt that when the time was right, I'd know. This past week, in contemplating the anniversary that was approaching, I knew that it was time to scatter these last few ashes in the ocean and close this chapter of my life. I talked to Lisa about my idea and she enthusiastically supported it and wanted to be a part of the mission that was formulating in my thoughts.
At first I had talked about scattering the ashes in the ocean near the place where Lisa and I often sit on Sunday mornings to talk - a beautiful little spot where the rocky cliffs dip down into the ocean and form the tide pools that Laguna is famous for. But when I thought about it some more, I came to the conclusion that there could be no better place to give these ashes a toss than in the waters of one of the most beautiful and famous gay beaches in Southern California. It felt like a fitting tribute to a man who had known all his life he was gay and lived as such with unbridled enthusiasm.
Lisa at our favorite nursery in Laguna
On the weekends especially, West Beach is a cornucopia of gay men and women from up and down the coast who gather there to play beach volleyball, hang out with friends, swim, tan and show off their bodies. It's a secluded corner of the world where those whose partners are a man or a woman like unto themselves, can hold hands, play, snuggle on their towels and feel free, if only for a few hours, to be who they are without hesitation or fear. It's a little slice of heaven to be sure and the most perfect place I could think of to scatter this last handful of Les' ashes.
My first attempt at going into the water this morning was met with a resounding "No chance in hell" as a couple of my more vulnerable pals beat a hasty retreat back deep into the warmth of my body. But after sitting in the sun for a few more hours, the cool Pacific waters looked more inviting, so I pulled the little ivory vial out of my pack and told Lisa it was time. She would have joined me but said she had to pee and didn't feel quite right about doing that in the water next to me while I was scattering Les' ashes. We laughed and I went into the ocean alone.
As I swished the vial around in the churning, pale blue water, a few ashes floated out and then nothing - apparently they got wet and lodged themselves firmly inside. So I swished and I swished and I swished and I jumped up and down in the water and shook the hell out of the vial, and still nothing. With my frustration growing, I pulled it up out of the water, gave it few more good shakes and then re submerged it and myself into the water several times, convinced that by now everybody on the beach was probably thinking I'd lost my mind or was drowning. Finally, in a last desperate shaking of the vial, the ashes came drifting out of their hiding place and the deed was done. I thanked Les for our time together and told him I told him I loved him. And that was it because I couldn't think of anything else to say.
All of that jumping about had made me need to pee, so I stood there in the water and did just that - and laughed thinking about Lisa waiting patiently on the beach because she didn't want to do what I had just done. I knew Les would understand.
Lisa has a unique relationship with a pod of dolphins who come to see her often at the beach in front of her home on the Balboa peninsula. She talks to them and they communicate with her somehow and on occasion they show her their new babies. She says they let her know how they're doing and sometimes give her their thoughts about things going on in her life. Some of Lisa's friends think she's crazy and others dismiss out of hand the possibility that she could be friends with the dolphins. When she asked me today what I thought about it, I told her I didn't have to believe whether such a thing was possible or not - that I just went with it because it was her reality and that was enough for me. But the fact is, I've watched the dolphins on several occasions now, find Lisa and me on the beach no matter where we are and come to say hello. And that's something they've never done for me in the hundreds of times I've been on the beach by myself.
As we wandered onto West Beach early this morning, I wondered aloud if the dolphins might come to say hi - and moments later, there they were, swimming in so close to shore that we could have waded out and touched them. I looked at Lisa and we laughed - her dolphins always know where to find her.
As we sat on the sand at the edge of the surf and watched the dolphins jumping up out of the water and cavorting and playing, (and apparently talking to Lisa) she said that she thought they would be sticking around for most of the day. And sure enough, they did. I knew that they were probably there for Lisa but couldn't help wondering if maybe they had also come to participate in this symbolic act of letting go that I was there for. Because I don't know anything for sure about the realities that exist beyond this physical one, my imagination is free to go where it will and I enjoyed sitting there today imagining that the dolphins were blessing the waters and saying, "Yes, this is the right place Tom."
Five years ago I scattered some of Les' ashes in the stream that ran through the property in Prescott, Arizona next to the cabin where he died. Many months before he was even sick, he'd told me that he liked the idea of his ashes being scattered in a stream because it represented the continuation of life. I buried some of his ashes under a pine tree that we planted on the property and others I scattered in the Mediterranean near his dear friends Raya and Shmulik's home in Israel. A handful of ashes were scattered in a park in Rome and I emptied one of Les' favorite jewelry boxes and filled it with some ashes that I sent to his sisters in Pennsylvania. And finally, I kept a small ivory vial of ashes for myself, not knowing for sure why but knowing that someday I'd feel that all was finished and I'd find the right place to scatter them and say my last goodbye.
Today I found that place at a beautiful beach in Laguna where lots of my brothers and sisters go to play and seek safe harbor from a sometimes un-accepting world. My buddy Lisa was there with me and her dolphin friends came to share in the festivities. The sun was shining, the sand was warm and the Pacific stretched out forever in front of me on the horizon. There were no tears or sad longings - only the feeling that I'd come a long ways in five years and that I was completely free to let go and move on.
This world is such a beautiful place and sometimes all I can think about is how to find and choose the words that most closely describe the way I feel about it. In writing about my life with Les and the years that have followed his passing, I realize that I've found all of the words I needed to find and that it's time to end this story. The final chapter is written and today I closed the book. What lies ahead I have no idea. But if today is any indication, I've got a lot to look forward to.