“Why did I move to southern California?”

As I make my way down the boardwalk, stupidly loaded with shopping bags filled with tourist garbage for the kids, the lyrics from the Wax song go through my mind. You know, the one that had the Spike Jonez video with the guy on fire running for the bus. Single shot camera. Very disturbing, and very good. I look around. Why did any of these people move to southern California? The hard bodies and the bums and the goth runaways …maybe everyone ends up going west sometime, looking for something that ends at the ocean. Nowhere else to go then.

The sun is getting lower, late on such a winter’s day, and I decide that this little trip must include a few minutes of me staring at the Pacific, so I cut across to the beach as a bicyclist riding with no hands on the handlebars whizzes past me close enough to rustle my hair. My hands are getting sore from the bags anyway and I want to put them down and rest before trudging back to the hotel. I find a concrete wall between the boardwalk and the beach to hop up on, and I sit, dangling my legs.

The water is such a pretty color today, that seafoam green that looks exactly like a piece of sea glass I once had, some mixture of clouds and color. The waves are coming in strongly, fizzling in bright white as they reach the sand. I watch a lone surfboarder for a few minutes, but become frustrated when he never takes a wave, so I switch my view. A woman who kind of looks like me if I could get a tan is running slowly on the beach, and I smile a bit. Go go go. I squint over at the lowering sun, and stare out as far as I can. Nowhere else to go. I pull out my cell phone and take a picture. It’s times like these I wish I smoked, so I could sit here and draw on the cigarette slowly and look all pensive and cool. But I just look like another middle-aged mom, perched on a wall, from somewhere else, with yellow plastic bags from “Duke’s Surf Shop.”

It’s busy here, behind me on the boulevard and the boardwalk, and on the beach in front of me. It’s not warm out, maybe 60 at best, but people are still California-ing. A boy of about 9 or 10 walks out onto the beach some distance to my right. He is pudgy and white, with a brush-type haircut, his junk-food-and-too-much-Nintendo belly pushing far over the waistband of his swim trunks. He has no shirt on and no shoes, and I think how cold he must be, and then remember that kids really don’t care that much. He stands for awhile about 20 feet out from the waves and seems hesitant to go further. I look further back behind him, turning my head. I don’t see any family that looks to be his, but maybe they are watching him from one of the beachfront hotel rooms. Maybe they just checked in and he was eager to get to the beach.

A seagull proudly walks by me with a potato chip in its beak, taking my attention for a moment, and I grin at it. I try to grab my phone to take a picture of it, but I am too clumsy in my effort and scare it, as it now flies away with a potato chip in its beak. I think it all has some great sardonic overarching meaning, probably, but I am too tired to find it. Seagulls are such asses.

I look back again to the fat boy, and to my surprise he has walked into the water, about a foot deep. Damn, that really must be so cold. But he seems happy, running in and out as the waves break around his knees. He grabs something from the beach, some rocks or shells I suppose, and throws them into the water. They don’t go far.

A scrubby-but-cute guy in his 20s comes up to me, and I instantly get my ‘yeah, WHAT” face on, expecting him to ask for money, but instead he asks me if I know where the Imperial Chinese restaurant is. I laugh a bit and say no, sorry, I do not, and he waves and tells me, “OK. Cool. Have a good night!” with a big white smile. Down to my left, I can hear an acoustic guitar that some teenage girl is playing to a group of other teens under the pier the juts far out into the water. I think about what my kids would be doing now.

The fat kid has gotten bolder, and is now up to his chest in the water. I don’t know exactly why this bothers me, but it does. I look around again for someone who might belong to him, might tell him that it is getting a little dark out now, that the waves are too rough. Nothing. Everyone just goes by. I look at my watch. I probably have allotted enough Staring At The Ocean time now, should get going, catch some dinner and pack for the flight home tomorrow. I take out my phone again and text message my oldest son, reminding him to feed the dog.

As I look up again, look over at the boy one more time, I see only what I think is his head in the water. A wave comes over, covers it. I wait. I don’t see him. I peer harder. Where is he? I look around, up and down the beach, behind. Nothing. Oh, no. No.

I gather up my purse and my bags and trot over across the wide span of sand to the place where he was. It is dusk now, and I feel a rising panic. I see only the waves rolling in, some seaweed floating and bobbing. I go closer to the water, and my shoes are getting wet. I see what must have been his footprints, but I cannot tell where they go, or if they were coming or going, as the water rises and washes them out.

Did I see what I saw? Did I? Did I? I don’t know what to do! Did I just see a child drown, or was it a plant or a seal or who knows what? I keep desperately staring into the water, then turning around towards the beach and the boardwalk. I don’t see him anywhere, and I don’t see anyone looking like they are looking for him. People keep going by, unaware, maybe taking a glance at some woman with a bunch of bags looking like she lost something.

Maybe while I was texting, he finally got chilly and ran in to his hotel or something, right? Maybe my eyes are just no good. Surely someone would be looking for him by this point, getting dark? Right?

The streetlights on the boardwalk turn on as I stand uselessly staring into the surf. I turn around and slowly walk back to the boulevard, wishing I saw a lifeguard or a cop or the kid and his family, now dressed and heading out to dinner at Imperial Chinese.

I get back to my hotel, not hungry, pack my suitcase, and stare at the television far into the night, until I am exhausted enough to sleep. I have somewhere else to go.