Navarre Beach, Florida – January 7, 2013
Past midnight in New Orleans a man showed me a spot on a map, a bit of land off Santa Rosa sound. He pointed to and tapped his finger.
“This is where you need to go,” he said. “It’s magical.”
He used to live in Pensacola and grew up on those beaches. He splashed around as a baby in the sound, grew tall enough to stand in the Gulf’s waves, skipped school to camp out on the white sand for days and soak in the water. Then BP’s rig blew up.
“I’ll never go back there,” he told me. “They killed it. I felt the water change. I felt it die.”
His voice came low and quiet, dead, like he could see the oil ripping his childhood memories away from him, cutting him away from his true love, snapping his connection to the world. I thought of my beaches, of St. George Island and Cape San Blas. The ones where I crawled around in diapers and chased my dad into the waves. I thought of watching the television day after day, watching that line of oil advance toward them, waiting helpless for the oil to color my childhood pictures black.
“I will never go there again,” he said. “But you should go.”
I found the spot. White sand stretched under glassy water. Jellyfish danced underneath me. A long crescent beach hung into the sound, drifting, building, fading with each storm.
It was beautiful, but I wasn’t sure.
Every black speck in the water, every blemish, every off-color patch of sand, popped to life. I noticed anything less than perfect, anything out-of-place, anything I would have brushed aside before. Now I wondered where it came from, why it was there, if it was safe to step on with bare feet. I thought about the pain in his voice. I saw his eyes and their faded glow. I heard his promise never to return.
“It’s gone,” he said. “It’s gone forever.”
He meant the beach, his childhood memories, the water he loved, but he was really talking about our innocence.