In Myrtle Beach during the early summer of 2017, heretofore identified only as the days without time, my friends took to laughing at mini golf courses with water spurting from the mouths of enamel-coated dragons, vacated beachwear warehouses still boasting names like DOLPHIN, twelve pancake houses and two gas stations and one tit show off the interstate. The water here is so clear I can see my face in it, I wanted to scream. You don’t know sediment-infested sea. We may have bought a pitcher of sangria for four dollars at the Mellow Mushroom, but when we left I believed I was doomed for something much darker, a pollution that by virtue of my own breeding I would never escape again. (But then, the water in Galveston, Texas, isn’t really dirty. I once learned in high school biology class that our ocean west of the Mississippi is murky because it is nourishing, a bastion of microbes feeding an invisible ecosystem so spellbindingly complex we do not really even try to understand it.)

***

I’m very young, sitting with my sister in chairs made of straw in a pier-top café in Galveston, freshly burnt lips pointed towards an exposed pipe ceiling, the dirty lines like sea walls. The city is already irrevocably caught between old and new, deeply unsure of itself but loud nonetheless, the bitingly ironic combination that may describe anything or anyone that is properly Texan. In the afternoons we walk through midtown among year-old breweries made to look ancient and crab cakeries where consignment shops had been washed out to sea. One spring, a freshly-whitened boardwalk rises up out of the fog like the ones in California. It closes less than a year later.

***

Mother was right—it was hell dreaming backwards, me fingering without regard or alarm the dorm room heating unit I always thought I had wanted and some guy from the campus bookstore calling me up to say, “we just have different concepts of time, I guess.” The recruitment paraphernalia distributed by my North Carolina college had advertised a meaningful proximity to the sea, but when I got there I realized that the shore was an untenable two hours away and everything in my immediate vicinity was covered in an impenetrable green—not at all the endless but conquerable lawn but rather thickets of barely touched earth, practiced in both keeping in and out.

***

During the days without time, we parked the Subaru at the Maritime Club and removed our mildly frayed bathing towels from the pollen-soaked trunk. I forgot mine one afternoon and so I took to the water instead, just too frigid for comfort in the confusion of early June. But T told me that the trick was to override whatever part of my brain did not want to feel cold. To do this, I had to make repeated diving motions, taking care to submerge my body in its entirety with each go. On the final dive before my system relented, I resurfaced with what appeared to be tar on the right side of my nose. In my hands and on my feet—the torn remnants of a blue bag of pretzels, the stringy portion of a pair of airline headphones. A, her tongue rum-dipped, speech swollen, called from the beach: “that water’s filthy.”

***

Eight miles down Galveston island, far away from monogrammed tote bags and Japanese fusion food, our little house was beautiful because we knew it could not last, each year giving something of itself to the salt-ravaged air—a water-heating unit, a lawn chair, a skin of mint-tinged paint. On the weekends a family of ten occupied the usually barren house that sat one step closer than ours to the sea wall. We heard that they came from Florida, that the sea is uglier here but at least the dogs can sniff out crab holes at night, and you can walk down to the old Moody Garden district Sunday mornings and look at the white-and-blue taquerias and still kind of feel it.  We sat on our balcony after soapy morning swims and stared into their windows, rusted like ours, blinds wrestling to keep the light out.

***

When there is no water around people make do. There was a party thrown every spring by one of the fraternities on campus, a party I never attended but knew well. People laughed and drew faces on blue paper cups that fell over in the wind or in the composite force of the laughter. The women wore swimsuits and the men wore shirts and pants or pants only, and after a few hours, when dusk began to make its threats visible, one of the fraternity brothers would arrive with Costco sheet cakes, which, upon seeing, the crowd of men and women would grovel for and fling into the atmosphere, at each other. There was cake in strands of hair, between blades of grass. Sometimes the partygoers found it underneath their fingernails weeks later, at an eight thirty statistics lecture, and suddenly they recalled everything, how their friend had passed out in a meadow of confectionary pink, hair tangled and funfetti-studded.

***

The cotton candy boys and girls were at Myrtle Beach, too, but I heard that they were rubbing their hands against the deep unforgiving contours of unrealized time as opposed to doing without. They rubbed their hands as if the sensation might provide something akin to warmth, as if the source had any regard at all for strangers. When this endeavor failed, they sat sipping Jolly Rancher flavored martinis and traded pockets of hot air instead: L was going to work for an insurance agency in Newark. P had been selected for the NBC Page Program. G was going to be a lawyer, which everyone already knew. They went to the nightclub, a three-tiered monstrosity called Spangal, after the publicly covert exchange, where they took photos in mirrors tinged with the color as opposed to the essence of gold and kissed one another forcefully and spilled cranberry vodkas all over the green-plated floor and when it was over they knew they had achieved something irrevocable but they could not remember what or for what and so they simply stopped and supposed that had been the point after all.

***

All of this is to say that my sister and brothers and I were always finding things in the water in Galveston, some that belonged and some that didn’t. My mother, purveyor of fine tragedy, must have believed her spider-limbed children were uncovering relics of lives washed to sea during the Great Storm of 1900. We committed early on to varying degrees of disbelief and persisted in making castles with pelican shit for the moats, Corsicana bottle cap windows—architectural testimony to the useless and the deformed. And one of us, without warning, would discard their empty Capri Sun among the murmuring rubble and step into, onto, the carefully laid dwelling, as if in answer to the postcards lining the tall spinning carts in the gift shops along Main: I am having a great time!

***

Caroline Fernelius is a Ph.D. student in the English Language & Literature department at the University of Michigan. She lives in Ann Arbor. You can find her on Twitter at @CLFernelius.

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

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