I have no idea when it started but at some point in my life I developed the habit of walking when I was drunk. Now, the hard part of this is figuring out when I started drinking, which was thirteen or fourteen, and let’s face it, at that time in anyone’s life they do more walking than driving. I’m probably one of the few people you’ll ever meet who was drinking the first time he drove a car alone. None of this, of course, explains my propensity for motion while inebriated. That’s something I might have to think about when I’m on a walk.
The July of 1980 was hot. Not just hot but hellishly so. I drove past some building with an outdoor temperature display and it was 97 degrees just after nine in the morning. I went to buy a case of beer, just in case I needed more alcohol, and there was a group of people drinking on Jekyll Island that day. It was a three day weekend, not the 4th of July, but time taken off of work to clear the cobwebs and get away from trying to schedule people to work when they really didn’t want to work, and who did? Working in a restaurant is harder than most people can imagine unless they’ve done it. For a lot of very young women it’s their first experience in how truly incredibly weird men can be in public, sober, in front of other people, and for those who haven’t learned to drive yet it’s a lesson that they are never truly safe around men, so it’s best to learn how to navigate around them, never saying yes but never calling them on being assholes, either.
After a few beers, a few shots, I left the group and started walking. I could hear the voices as I walked away. Gladys was a loud woman when she laughed, and she laughed a lot. Kenny had a voice that was very distinct. Linda’s voice was an undercurrent, she was older than the rest of us, thirty-one, but she was a lot of fun. I was surprised that someone her age could be fun because I had never met anyone over twenty-one who was. But the ocean’s waves took over the world of sound and the voices faded. The sand on the beach was littered with seaweeds and vegetation from the marshes. Bubbles appeared and disappeared as some creature that lived under the sand breathed and lived its life, never drinking a beer or walking.
I carried a glass bottle wrapped in duct tape with me when I drank on foot. Straight whiskey on a day when the sun was pounding out triple digit heat and I cannot remember being too warm or hot. I loved the heat. I was wearing a pair of cut off shorts and nothing else, my shoulder length hair being bleached blonde by the sun and my skin turned to leather. But I was nineteen. I had enough money to buy alcohol and I was walking on the beach.
The water isn’t clear on Georgia’s coastline. It’s a salty mix of marsh grass and the muck that comes out of the tidal areas. It’s still a pretty place, but the weeds stick to the skin after a swim and in knee deep water your feet disappear. I always wondered if people would go into the water if they could see perfectly through the water as they do through the air. There are sharks, people know this, intellectually, but as long as they cannot see the sharks then it’s okay. This was only a few years after the movie “Jaws” came out and there was still a lot of hysteria and stupidity in the water.
There were always cargo ships out on the horizon. How big where these monsters? I always wanted to see one up close, find out where they were going, and what they were carrying, and more importantly, who ran these boats? Did they ever wonder who was on the beach looking out over the ocean at the boats? On that day, while looking at a cargo ship, something bobbed out of the water, very briefly, something large and dark, but then it was gone again, leaving me wondering if I had really seen anything. The ripples lasted only a short time longer then there was nothing at all. What did the people on that boat see that would never be explained? I knew there were people out there on that boat, and they knew there were people on the beach, and in between was open water, sharks, and things that we saw for a second or two, and then never saw again.
The waves picked up and I thought the tide was coming in, or going out, I never could figure out what time of day it did what it did, and as long as I had enough room to walk the ocean did what it did and I did what I was doing. I looked back and there was no sign of the people I came with. There was a small dark spot where the shelter stood, and I knew they were still there, smoking, drinking, laughing, and Rachel would be reading a book away from the other members of the group until someone got drunk enough to hit on her and then she would leave.
I started back, watching for the thing in the water, and wondering if next time I should go in after it, to touch it, to put my hands on it, and perhaps lose a few fingers to stupidity and a creature with teeth. Maybe, and I sat down to finish the whiskey and watch for the creature, I would get towed out to sea and one of the boats would pick me up.
My skin was turning red, even for me I had spent a long time in the sun. The afternoon was waning and the light was beginning to lessen. It wouldn’t be dark until after eight, but the group I had come with would be migrating back to Ricky’s house, because that was where we all went to drink at night. As I got closer I could hear laughter, voices, and I saw Rachel leaving with her book. I looked back and there was a cargo ship, on the horizon, and I wondered if there knew there were people on the beach, looking out over the ocean at them.