Posted on: August 13, 2015

The Sunrise Recreation Center didn't make you wear any kind of uniform. They issued t-shirts, mostly second-hand short sleeves from Goodwill that they'd stenciled their name over. It was up to you to find the size closest to your fit in the pile at the beginning of summer.

The counselors could barely be distinguished from the tourists and the high-schoolers when they went out on field trips. The first hint was they all wore whistles around their necks. Some of the shirts were plain white undershirts, cut for men. Then one of the board members found a gross of used red t-shirts from an old sporting club downtown, which were issued to us in the first week of August.

Because of the shirts' uniformity, along with their abundance, they unofficially changed the name of the rec center to Sunset. Same difference. There was no sign out front anyway. We had a temporary office in the gym next to the First Presbyterian Church in Seaside.

Although I finally looked like I belonged, I never got used to the change, and I kept finding reminders of the old name for the rest of the summer. On stationery, or written in sharpie on volleyballs and ice chests.

I spent more and more time in the offices, away from the noise and the whirlpool of touch football games and the teenage politics among the rest of the staff. There was never going to be a better time to replace those blue Havaianas flip-flops. I was moving to Alaska in the fall, and the dog had chewed them both at one time or another to varying degrees. I'd buy some canvas deck shoes, espadrilles, to keep out the water and the cold.

The fine purple sand of Big Sur got between my toes when I walked the beach at high tide, up by the duckweed where it wasn't packed down and damp. The purple color came from the eroded quartz and manganese garnet that had been washing downstream into the surf for eons. The beach, particularly when wet, took on a translucent hue, made up of a million grains of glass that caught light off the water, like a stagnant pond turning oily, a chemical rainbow at sunset.

The officials had posted warning signs, but the teenagers still went out there to make out and smoke dope. It looked dark and featureless at night, and more than one teenager had lost their footing and drowned during the cold autumn months.

I wouldn't have to get a new bathing suit. The light in Alaska wouldn't catch the mica in the sand in the same way, and the temperature of the water would keep me out as well, regardless of the coverage or the material I wore.

The old one no longer fit me, being as it was one of those one-piece modest types. My step-father picked it out for me one summer in grade school, telling me two-pieces weren’t for swimming. I think he was trying to keep me as young and innocent-looking as possible, for as long as possible but I also sensed he was protecting himself from my increasingly ripening puberty and the temptation it posed for him. While the one-piece covered all provocative skin zones, it also grew tight as I bloomed. I never felt comfortable alone in the house with him.

That wet-suit I would find myself in would prevent any untoward thoughts, from him or from the instructors in Alaska who might take my arm or waist when helping me into or out of a kayak.

The protection, and the warmth, would also help me when I started at the tourist bureau in Nome. Ex-patriots and outsiders still streamed into Alaska chasing the promise of pipeline jobs, fishing boat riches, and the promise of the open space. I didn't want to work that hard for so little gold. Someone had to serve the miners their breakfasts.

And, I didn't tell Jess what my plans were. He'd invited me to his parents' house up in the bluff while they were away in San Francisco. He was more interested in writing a screenplay and telling me his old jokes, barbecuing plank steaks and enjoying his last chance to feel like he wasn't obligated to turn something in, or be anyplace at a specific time.

Possibly, he would invite Brittany and Molly, or Steve over for another long weekend. Or he would turn on the charm and the Maroon 5, and try to get me naked again in his hot tub. Jess was living in a dream, and the best dreams don't have a resolution or end, they just burn off in the sun. He was going to Brown, and his dad would make sure that if he ever really was jerked out of his drifting, it would be an awakening as soft and painless as he could make it.

At the end of the summer, the kids started dropping out early, before the actual end of camp. Some for last-minute vacations, others because the funds didn't last, or the water got too cold, or their inherited intolerance to the sun and the mosquitoes got to be too much.

The days were growing shorter. The water around Big Sur got choppy this time of year. In Alaska, because of the cove surrounding Golovnin Bay, in the Norton Sound, I heard the water was always preternaturally calm. They told me the days were long in summer, and the sun never completely fell below the horizon. It never quite got dark. All winter, it seemed like it was always sunset.

Written by: Roger Leatherwood
Photograph by: Anthony Delanoix

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