Falling in Love with a Pier


I showed up early to a meeting yesterday.

Like, really really early. Like, it would have been embarrassing if I wasn’t meeting with two of my closest friends, one who I call “best” and one who wears the title unspoken. So instead of waiting in front of our meeting place, head down, thumbs tangled in my phone, I walked. And then I realized I was a block away from a pier. So I walked there too.

I watched boats come in and out. I watched waves gently form. I watched tourists and commuters alike disembark from their transportation of choice — cruises, ferries, and somethings in between.

And as I watched that water, I thought about my grandma.

My paternal grandmother, who died in 2010 while I was in grad school. A woman I wasn’t all that close with growing up because of distance — emotional, at first, and then physical. The excuse we would all use now is that she was English. That there was a cultural divide, one shaped by family and then war. She immigrated to the US when she was a teenager to flee her own war torn country. She worked for AT&T until she had children. I still have her gold bracelet somewhere from a work milestone. She’d been married twice and never talked about her first husband. My uncle, my dad’s half-brother, even shares our last name. And I regret not having a real conversation with her about that before she died. Abuse wasn’t in my vocabulary at that time, not in any form. And now there’s no one left to tell her story.

When I was in elementary school, she and my grandpa moved to Oceanside, California, a detail I’m reminded of every time I touch the spine of Brit Bennett’s The Mothers. She found religion around the same time my family found a folded Confederate flag among my grandfather’s things. The flag was destroyed or discarded. I, for some reason, was gifted my grandfather’s World War II medals. My mom never lets me forget that. They’re framed in my parents’ house, a tribute to a man who was never really good, was he? But we loved him.

The summer before I turned nine, my grandma invited me to spend time with her down in Oceanside. The two hour drive was a world away. In my fourth grade mind, she’d invited me to spend the summer with her, like so many of the blonde heroines in the serial books I loved. Didn’t Stacey have a grandparent who lived on the beach? Wasn’t Nancy Drew always summering?

In reality, the invitation was for a week, but I didn’t care. For the first time, I was taking a trip without my brothers. For the first time, I was free. We went to the beach because that’s what you do. I don’t like sand, even today. Maybe that’s one of the things that keeps me happily in Seattle. We have shoreline, but sand is less plentiful here. I remember my grandma being a little disappointed that I didn’t want to spend more time with the water licking my feet. She had her camera and took so many photos. And then we went to the pier.

And my perspective on water shifted.

I didn’t like the beach, but I loved the pier. I remember declaring that, as though it made me more interesting. I remember cringing at that phrasing in my 20s. Did I really say that? And as I watched the boats come in yesterday, I remember loving how honest I was — how honest I still am. Later, once I was in that meeting that I’d arrived so early to, Sara watched my face as notes were distributed.

“Stop. I’m watching your heart break right in front of me," she said.

She’d suggested cutting a character — as an exercise — but I’d fallen so in love with her that it felt like I was killing someone in the process.

And then later, at home, when I told my husband he’d missed an opportunity. To grate cheese was the actual missing, but it was more. To talk, to listen, to stand together in the kitchen and just be.