One in a Billion / Beaches
"AWESOME! Let's do Tuesday, say 5 p.m., Penfield. I'll grab three large cheese pizzas, water and snacks. If I forgot anyone, spread the word," Margie's message read.
So slightly before 5 p.m. on said Tuesday I loaded up my father's Fairfield Beach be-stickered Odyssey with precisely one plastic shovel, one plastic bucket, one Chinese-American daughter and one Green-Card-wielding, but proud People's Republic of China citizen wife and headed down to the beach.
Living in the steamy heat of Asia for so long I really did forget how beautiful the United States can be. The beach at Penfield, while lacking the soft carbonate sands and azure waters of Thailand or the Philippines, has some of the most beautiful wide open skies and amazing sunsets I have seen anywhere in the world. It must be the reason so many of my friends from high school have either stayed in Connecticut, or have parents who have.
Unfortunately, when I left town in 1990, I completely lost touch with almost all of my high school friends. From the age of 15 through 18, these were people with whom I had spent countless hours driving between various local parking lots of Fairfield. On hot summer nights, and even in the dead of winter, we would meet up at one of our suburb's finest automotive resting places to cement the bonds that would hold us together for years afterwards. But unfortunately, even though I returned to Connecticut every summer, nearly two decades passed before I saw many of them again.
In early July of this year, I was putting the finishing touches on my life in China. On the last day before flying out, two of my biking-mates and I woke up well before sunrise and rode up through the hot, humid and oppressive summer air to Zi Xia lake at the top of Nanjing's Purple Mountain. I swam out into the inky black water that was illuminated only by the light pollution from the city below reflecting on the clouds above. I floated on my back reflecting on where my life has taken me, while staring at the clouds and enjoying the complete silence that can only come from submerged ears. As I climbed out, my blissful feeling was ruined by feeling my toes sink into the icky sticky black lake-bottom muck.
The embryo for Tuesday reunion was planted approximately two years prior. Actually, I know the exact date and time: May 19, 2008, at 9:08 a.m. On that date, I received a message from Laura, one of my long-lost high school friends.
"I swear Facebook is like being in the Twilight Zone! You're in China? Fabulous! Sooooo, whatcha been up to for the past 17 years?"
Through the magic of social networking I slowly started to reconnect with those people I had not seen in so many years. On Tuesday, at 5 p.m. sharp, my family and I pulled into the lot at Penfield and trekked up to beach. At one of the picnic tables were, as promised, three large Frank Pepe cheese pizzas, water and snacks, and a half-dozen of the same people that had I stood on that very same beach with back in the eighties. The main difference was that we were now surrounded by our running and screaming kids. And so we sat, watching the kids play, sipping wine (shhh! don't tell), and catching up. Again I found myself reflecting on life while we talked and watched the setting sun paint the crystal-clear American sky before us.
"Group pic!" someone called out.
I stood and once again had the moment ruined as a Penfield shell pierced my foot.
We picked up the garbage, loaded up the toys and kids and everyone made their way back to the cars. It was great seeing my friends again, but the next day, Li Na, Mia and I boarded a plane once again and exactly one week from the Penfield reunion my Vibram Five-Toe feet would be pounding up a rocky stream bed near the border of North Korea.
Fairfield native Keith Gallinelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org