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August 26, 2009

Inspiration and Bioluminescence

Prompted by Merlin's post and a too-short Advil PM-powered sleep interrupted by disruptive dreams of high school, Junior year, when Steve F. and I would ride around the hinterlands west of Bangor just before curfew in his Subaru Brat listening to the Vision Quest soundtrack ("lunatic fringe... I know you're out there!") and the Kinks ("oh, the stories/have been told/of kings and days of old/but there's no England now"), I jumped onto Facebook to see if I could remember Marty's name, the kind-hearted, good-spirited Marty with the maybe hot sister, and failed.

But in the two- and three-degrees of separation and scanning lists of friends of friends from long ago I had not yet befriended there, because I left twenty years ago and hardly looked back after college Freshman year summer, if even then, I found a memory; not necessarily a proud memory, to be sure, but a memory worth sharing.

I grew up in eastern Maine, with an elder neighbor as best friend and constant companion who ended up going to a different high school; we had no high school in the tiny old farming town turned bedroom community I was from, so we got to pick where we'd go from the nearby choices. Most went to Brewer, the larger town to the north, some south to Bucksport, some to Bangor and John Bapst (an old Catholic school gone secular). Steve went to Bapst. So I continued my tradition, forged in the crucible of gifted and talented programs and being a non-native in a state where it matters and being lousy at basketball in a state where little else matters in the winter, of being on a sort of fringe, a tendency to live between two worlds. I went to Brewer, and Steve went to Bapst, and so I had friends in both worlds but a home in neither.

And with friends in two worlds, you didn't tend to form deep connections; few friends but many acquaintances as you were taken into and then out of circles of closer friends; it was how I met Laura. To be honest, the specifics aren't clear now, twenty years later, but I was a friend of a friend and Laura needed a prom date, and I had a car. A blue and silver 1967 Mustang coupe with a tiny straight-six 200 and an extra leaf in the rear springs, so it didn't matter. The car looked good, and I liked to think I looked good in it, and she looked good in her dress, and so we went to the prom.

There was supposed to be a party in Bar Harbor afterwards, but as it wasn't my circle of friends, and she wasn't sure where it was either, we drove around Mount Desert Island for a few hours and eventually pulled over to sleep by the side of the road and be eaten by black flies and mosquitos. And I'm sure she thought I was, and I'm sure I was, a cad. I know we never talked much after that. Not much of a prom, anyway. I hope she had better.

But we'd changed out of our dress clothes before driving down to the Island, and when we got to Sand Beach (a misnomer, it's paved in tiny shells and shell fragments that stick to your skin and are hard to wash off even under pressure) we got to see that wonder of night beaches: bioluminescence. Every wave that crashed sent rolls of bluish-green static splashing around everywhere, giving the cloudy night a diffuse glow. We staggered out onto the beach to watch, and ran into a bunch of very drunk, and very wet, and fairly cold, Quebecois girls, one of whom grabbed and held me tight for just a moment, muttering in that broad, flat French of the north, before running off into the distance and the long flights of stairs that led to the parking lot far above.

And I don't know if she remembers that night, God knows she smelled like she'd had enough to drink to forget most everything else, but it has stayed with me, for twenty years of moving on and away, more vividly than so much else. Maybe it's because I don't have pictures, or movies, or anything but the soft light of the surf and the chill of a shivering body and the scratch of the shell-covered beach, to recall.

So, thanks, Merlin, and thanks, Laura, and thanks, anonymous Quebecois girl on the beach, and thanks to all the creatures of the sea who died and were reborn in the light of the surf so that I could see a glimpse of a face as she bumped into me and then ran by.