The Night Sea Air
By: Kelli J Gavin
For Writers Unite!
Sherri didn't really want to join me on this trip anyway. I shouldn't have felt guilty leaving her back in the hotel room, but for some reason I did. She said she would be fine and even smiled when I said I would be back in an hour, two tops. The guilt had already started to set in, and I made a mental note to stop at the taco truck on the corner on the way back and bring her something to eat. Sherri had said she wasn't hungry earlier when we arrived at the hotel, so she read a book while I devoured each bite of the meal I grabbed from the Greek Food Truck one block towards the pier. I knew she liked tacos. At least I thought she did. I said a prayer that she did because I didn't need to give her another reason to begrudge me.
I wanted to see the ocean again. I needed to see it again. I told Sherri it was calling my name. Sherri rolled her eyes and replied, "Nancy, why are you so dramatic? Everything you say sounds like you snagged it from a Jane Austen novel. The ocean doesn't call your name. You just like to take time off work, preferably near water."
Feeling like she was just in a funk, I told her that I had already booked a room and if she liked I could book the airfare that night. I knew she didn't like flying, or hotels, or even the idea of sleeping in a bed that wasn't her own, but I also knew that she always found something to complain about. Every time I had begged her to join me in the past, Sherri finally relented and would say something like, "Well, maybe I could use a few days away."
When I booked the airfare, I didn't tell her it was two first class tickets. If I had, she would say I was making a fuss and maybe even refuse to go. She again rolled her eyes at me when we boarded the plane and we were in the second row behind the cockpit. Sherri was speechless when the flight attendant offered her a glass of champagne even before take-off. I loved every second of it. Being pampered wasn't something I had been used to, so I knew that this trip was going to be special, regardless of any additional eye rolling that may be shot in my general direction.
The car that picked us up at the airport was a nice way to be delivered to the Oasis by the Sea Hotel. We didn't even need to touch our bags or even our carry- on bags once we set them on the curb. Tom was an excellent driver and left both Sherri and I his card. "Ladies, it would be my pleasure to be of any assistance while you are here on your vacation. I only need two hours advance notice. I can take you anywhere you like and return you to the Oasis."
"Thank you, Tom. That sounds excellent. Once we are settled, I will call you later this evening about our plans for the next few days." I liked Tom. I wanted this to be an effortless trip and knew using the services of a professional driver would be in our best interest.
After I had eaten, I asked Sherri if she wanted to go for a swim or even down to the bar we passed in the lobby. "Not this evening. I am actually a bit tired from traveling. I think I just want to settle in for the evening. Maybe read and watch some T.V.. Tomorrow after breakfast, I would love to go for a swim I think."
"I am feeling a bit restless. Would you mind if I walked down the pier and back? The one we saw just a few blocks before the hotel? I would love to take in the night sea air on our first night here."
"Okay. Go "take in the night sea air." Sherri smirked.
I had learned that Sherri really didn't mean anything with all her sarcasm and eye rolling. Always the cynic, her quirky personality grew on me as I got to know her about ten years ago. She slowly began to soften and even disclosed her painful childhood, the loss of her husband and the fact that she struggled to keep friends. I appreciated her honesty and told her she couldn't get rid of me if I tried. There were also those quite enduring moments when Sherri's eyes would soften and she would tell me she was glad that she could experience something with me, her dearest friend, for the first time. Because we didn't give gifts, we focused on taking trips together and experiencing life. She has been my closest friend all these years, and the person I needed to take with me on this final trip.
As I neared the pier, I pulled out my cell phone as I wanted to take a few pictures. The sights, the sounds, the smells. How could I capture the smells? A few restaurants with open air seating were full along the promenade and I felt serenaded by the sounds of people laughing and talking surrounded me. I smelled pizza and Asian cuisine and then saw a hot dog vendor at the foot of the pier. Yes, it was a little overwhelming, but back in the country where we lived, nothing like this existed. I welcomed the sensory overload as I tried to put my thoughts in some sort of order.
Walking the well lit pier at night was something I had always wanted to do. When I saw the picture online, I knew that is where I wanted to be. Something about how the water resided so far below the planks fascinated me. I supposed that when the tide came in, the water rose significantly, but I was thrilled to find it appeared the same way as it did in the picture online. The crowds seemed to thin out as I continued to walk slowly down the pier. The noise from the promenade faded and all I could hear were a few murmured conversations between couples, the obnoxious yet graceful seagulls swooping overhead and the faint sound of the wind.
Leaning over the railing for the first time, my elbows on the bar, I breathed in the night sea air I desperately craved. I then giggled to myself knowing Sherri would view this moment as unnecessary. I closed my eyes and focused my thoughts on the matter at hand.
This would be my last trip and I needed to share this with Sherri. The diagnosis of stage 4 breast cancer and the fact that it has spread to almost all of my abdominal organs and both lungs wasn't something that I was prepared to share with her. But I needed to know. The pain was manageable at this point, but for how long? How long would I be able to keep it under control with those little white pills the oncologist prescribed to me? Knowing that surgery and chemo would only slightly prolong my life for a few months or so, I chose, under wise counsel of the second and even third doctors, to concentrate on living my life, managing my pain and being thankful for the time I had left. They had advised travel immediately as it might not be possible soon. I knew this wasn't going to be an amazing trip with tons of sight seeing or excursions planned, but time spent by the pool, walking the pier, and enjoying great meals sounded wonderful to me.
I knew Sherri was tired after the day's travel, but I planned to sit her down and tell her when I returned to the room. I not only wanted to get it out of the way, I wanted to make sure that she didn't get upset if I waited closer to the time we returned home. Knowing she would be angry that I took her on this "fancy trip" only to tell her I was dying, it had to be tonight. I even made a mental note not to use the "flowery language" she hated and to just state the facts. Diagnosis. Prognosis. How I was feeling and what I was thinking. I knew I would finish with a note of thanks. I wanted to thank her for her friendship, her kindness and willingness to always do things I wanted to do and travel to the places I wanted to visit. But I also wanted to tell her that I was sorry I couldn't tell her all of this sooner and that I had been in denial through all of the extensive testing process.
Pondering how she would take this news, I hesitated walking back down the pier. Sitting on the bench, I bent my head in prayer asking God to calm my nerves, to soften Sherri's heart in advance and give me boldness in our much needed conversation. When I looked up, a young man held out a single red rose to me.
"Welcome to The Oasis Pier. May this rose brighten your night." Before I could even mutter a Thank You, he moved on to a couple further back down the pier.
The rose was breathtakingly beautiful and the aroma wafted towards me as soon as it was in my hands. What a sweet gift to be bestowed as I had just finished praying. As I stood and felt a little off balance, I took a moment and knew it was time for another pill. Walking back down the pier and scanning all of the booths and shops, I finally spied the taco truck and slowly made my way to order.
"May I please order the taco trio? One beef, one chicken, one steak. Extra sour cream and a container of guac, please. And if you would please put it in a bag. Thank you." Placing the order I would have liked would just have to be what Sherri liked too.
I felt empowered. I had tacos in hand, a gorgeous red rose and a plan. Sherri was a good friend to me, she always had been. Yes, I knew this would be a difficult conversation, but it was necessary. Then, when everything had been discussed, we would sleep and be rejuvenated for the new day tomorrow.
As I removed the key card from my front pocket, I smiled and opened the door to our hotel room. I am thankful for the solo pier walk that night. To gather my thoughts, develop a plan and to take in the night sea air.