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Beach


On one of New Charlie's first days back in New York, he took the Subway all the way out to Far Rockaway. It was just after the official end of the season, but the sun still got up high and warm into a hazy blue sky.

Places like this used to be resorts, where frantic hordes of tenement dwellers escaped on the hottest August days. Now, it was unclear. Several storms had washed through in the previous decade, and apparently lots of folks had left. There were stories that he'd read about abandoned houses and unfinished Army Corps of Engineers projects to help people get back into the neighborhoods just off of the beach.

Still, Charlie was expecting at least a small crowd, despite the fact that it was a Wednesday, and was pretty shocked to find that he was -- at least in the ten block stretch of beach that he came to -- the only person out there. In all the great city, a place where everyone lamented an incapacity to find a quiet spot for solitude and contemplation, here were dozens of acres with nothing but seagulls, some washed up Coke cans, and the shush of the actual Atlantic.

Rockaway. Far Rockaway. A place so far from Manhattan as to be called out for its farness. He had arrived.

"Uh oh," he thought. He knew that the quiet (though welcome, really!) was going to have undesirable effects too. Though maybe not immediately. On top of a protective dune just off the beach, Charlie surveyed the empty sand, squinting at the wind and the salt-air. He sat in the sand and took off his Converse sneakers.

Method, patience, routine. These were the keys to not letting destructive thoughts into an otherwise reflective, almost meditative space. Easy, rhythmic breaths and intentional pauses for reflection and gratitude. They would shepherd him through the initial moments of insecurity.

Letting oneself think about the destructive things was only part of Charlie's problem. The thoughts, themselves, were not really the worst of it. The worst was the way that the thoughts triggered other thoughts, and then feelings of inadequacy, then feelings of helplessness, then feelings of guilt, and then feelings of shame. Then he drank until he came to days later.

That, at least, would have been the pattern if the man on the beach was Old Charlie. But this was New Charlie. This was New Charlie, fresh from the institute and cleaned up. Spic and span New Charlie would not let the kelp-tinted gusts off the Atlantic trigger memories. Old Charlie would have already been down at the bar that New Charlie saw on the walk to the beach. The one with the blue anchor, about four feet across, outside of it. The one that looked like it would be empty at 11 AM, but also like it would not judge him for going in.

Far Rockaway. Named that way because of how Far it was. No freaking joke. Easy as that.