I was eleven when I found out my dad had killed his marriage. He drove me to the beach on State Road 60. The ocean looked like a coloring book. If I had opened the windows the colors might have spilled inside the car. I tried to open my window but it didn’t budge; my dad had locked them. We were sealed inside.
I loved the beach because the world ended at the sea – there were no cities, no people, no rude conversations, no glancing strangers. For miles there was nothing but sparkling blue water, the orange sun, a gang of seagulls, a banner of clouds across the sky. In the evening everything was just a silhouette of itself, like lazy ghosts in motion.
We parked somewhere, not quite the beach and not quite the road. My dad rolled down the windows and all the smells came in. Salt, tea leaves, clay, and something like the frozen meat section in a grocery store. My dad pulled the keys out and we just sat there for a while. The sunlight poured in and I started to sweat in my jeans.
My dad said, This is where your mother said she wouldn’t take me back.
I just nodded. I was in the backseat, what else could I do. I looked outside and a seagull was gnawing a piece of pizza. It probably looked at me but probably not.
He went on, I begged for her, I said I was sorry. She said it was over. So I told her it’s better if we die. He pointed to some spot up the road and said, Right there, I told her we could drive off the bridge together and die.
I wasn’t sure what to say. I was in the backseat, there wasn’t much I could do. The seagull outside poked holes in a beer can. This time I was sure it looked at me.
He said, Remember this spot? We went fishing here once. You, me, your mom, your brother. I caught the fish and you counted them. We were a good team.
I didn’t remember. I wondered if that made me a bad son.
I wanted to tell him, This is your fault, you know. You cheated on mom. You’re never home. You tell us we’re a terrible family. You talk about all these dreams and you’ve never accomplished anything. You’re just an old loser living off past glories that you probably exaggerated to sleep with all those women. I hope you’re proud of yourself. I hope you die alone and sick and miserable.
Suddenly my dad punched the steering wheel. The car horn went off and the seagull outside fell over. My dad said something but I didn’t understand any of it. It was yelling probably, or noises, or crying. I just sank into my seat and flew out of my body, out of the car, over the sand, over the water, into the sun where no one could see me. I wanted to be one of the ghosts. I didn’t want to care.
When my dad finished, he started the car again and trundled up the road. I looked back and the seagull shook its head. It squawked but I didn’t hear it because the windows were up again. I tried to remember the time our family went to the beach but it never came to me. Maybe my dad had made it up; maybe he wanted the lie.
I glanced at my dad but I was staring at a different person. He had left himself on the beach, another ghost, disappearing with the setting of the sun. But I wanted the fake stories. I wanted the glory days. I wanted the lie, too. I wondered if that made me a good son.