Beachcoming on the Darkside

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I walk along the beach with deliberate steps, peering at the ground. My eyes scan sand, rocks, seaweed, shells. Small waves lap the shore. A line clinks against a mast. I step, look ahead, step, look right, look ahead, step, look left. The shadow of a seagull passes overhead. I feel sun on the back of my neck, see a glint, pause, reach down. Nope. Just a rock.

White—good. Green or brown—better. Blue or red or yellow or orange—heart stopping.

I am looking for sea glass. It’s a love, a passion. No, an obsession. I have jars of it at home, collected over the years on various beaches but there’s never enough. Every beach, every day, holds the possibility of more. And still, finding the next piece is like finding the first. There’s a thrill, a jump of my heart, a smugness, a satisfaction at the discovery of yet another piece. I reach down, pick it up and close it into my fist.

And it’s good, the hunting, the looking. It’s relaxing and exciting. Until. I see someone else walking down the beach with a clenched hand or carrying a bag or a cup. My heart jumps, beats faster. I feel an edge of panic, a splash of indignation. I draw a sharp breath, clench my jaw. Because I want to know, need to know, what they are collecting. Sea shells, heart shaped rocks, skipping rocks? Fine. Sea glass? Not fine. No, they should STEP AWAY FROM THE SEA GLASS.

I amble over, make small talk, act friendly. Hmmm, what are you collecting? If it isn’t sea glass, I like them, they are a friend. Sea glass? A tightness in my throat. They are foe. I want to know if they’ve found anything good. If not, I (shamefully) feel gleeful. If so, I feel ugly envy. I smile at them either way but, in the second case, it is false.

Later, I walk the beach with my twelve year-old niece. When we both come upon a piece of glass at the same time, I concede and let her have it but this is more painful than I care to admit. I do this with some grace (if with internally gritted teeth) but it’s a relatively non-coveted white/clear piece. Giving up a brown or green piece would make me cringe. And honestly, I might have acted shamefully if we both happened upon the coveted blue, yellow or red at the same time. Luckily my mettle isn’t tested.

If we both tripped upon a gold piece lying on the beach, it would be easier for me to cede it to her than it would be to allow her to have a piece of red or pink sea glass. An entire bathtub full of pieces of sea glass would not be enough to satisfy me. I like to look at them, sort them, pour them thru my fingers. There is something about their burnished, tumbled surface and edges that makes me want to touch them, look at them and hunt for more of them.

People do crazy things for objects that have far more actual value. But I, I might take someone to the mat over a piece of red sea glass.

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