We picked up where we left off the day before, the rocky shores of the coast were just how we'd left them as far as I could tell. The waves still crashed against the land and the land still groped towards the sky and the sky still hung indifferent to the furor below. Everything was grey and blue and violent except the red ribbons you tied in your hair. They waved peacefully in the steady winds, blown with a gentleness that eluded the waves and the gulls overhead. I’d be a liar if I said the birds weren’t chirping jealously among each other, forming a plot to push you into the sea.
We’d reached the end of land and were faced with the choice of either marching across the sea or following the jagged cliffs until eventually they looped back on themselves and brought us home. As neither of us were Jesus and neither of us could swim, the decisions was made considerably easier. How we'd grown up without learning how to swim is a mystery that I still haven't solved. It wasn't for lack of water and it certainly wasn't for lack of opportunity. Despite visiting the ocean every summer we’d never moved beyond standing in the surf with arms crossed and brows furrowed, scowling at the kids whose parents believed in water wings.
You decided we'd take a detour northwards in the direction of the sand caves we'd camped in when we were younger. I didn't remember them, but you assured me that not only were they there but that they were a legitimate secret hideout. "We camped out there one night on vacation.” You said laboriously, panting slightly from hiking up a low steep hill. “It was that time when your mother brought her boyfriend and we spent the whole summer breaking them up." You finished, stopping to lean against one of the tall conifers surrounding us.
"Dirk?" I asked. He’d been my Mother’s first boyfriend after my Father disappeared when I was younger. I’d never really liked him, but when I was more mature I realized he’d made my mom happy when they were together. It was recent enough that I knew who he was, but distant enough that I couldn’t put a face to the name.
"Yeah, him. Do you remember now?"
"No, not really. All I remember of Dirk is that I thought he was a real bastard." I said, watching you pull off your beaten-up shoes to empty out sand and rocks. I could see the tall bank of sand we were headed for through the trees and briefly thought, “Maybe someone emptied a really big shoe?” But then remembered I was being ridiculous. I could fell the dull ache in my head that begins whenever I’m somewhere I don’t know that I’ve been before. The pointless grinding of broken machines in my head. "We always went where he wanted to go, especially for Summer break."
"Well not that year. It was your Mom's idea for both of our families to come up and camp on the beach back there.” You slid your calloused feet back into the shoes and laced them up to the top, aware that sand would get in regardless. “She wanted to patch things up between herself and my Mom. I really wish you remembered this place, Eric." You sounded so sad when you said it; this place was clearly important to you.
"It’ll probably come back when we get there, like with that cabin up on Lake Ontario." I said, knowing full-well I wouldn’t remember, but wanting to at least make things believe things were a bit less dire.
"Yeah, I hope so." You mumbled, stepping from the tree and continuing the hike towards our former secret hideaway.
The walk from where we'd camped out the night before to the sand caves took us about an hour but on the way we passed some spectacular views. We should have brought more film than we did. The irony that we’d have nothing to remember a trip that's purpose was to stir my memories was lost on me. Instead I made a note of the purple glow the sun gave off when it hit the ocean in the mornings, completely aware that by the time I had a chance to write it down I’d have forgotten.
I haven’t been able to formulate memories properly since I was a kid. It’s not like in Memento or anything, I can remember thing that happened recently, just not things that happened a long time ago. There’s no real distinct cut-off point though, I can remember what I bought my sister for Christmas two years ago, but I can’t remember where I was on Christmas Eve. I know it’s been hard for you, dealing with this memory defect. Sometimes at night when you think I’m asleep you’ll sit up in bed and sob quietly with a hand over your mouth. Ultimately, these are the kinds of things I remember no matter how much easier things would be if I could forget.
We only had to climb a little ways from the base of the sand hill to get to the cave we were looking for. Honestly, I don't understand sand caves. How they can exist is beyond me, my brain can't handle thinking of sand holding a steady form. Nonetheless we were able to climb up the sand slopes without sinking into them. You explained why this worked to me once, but I’d forgotten. The cave we wanted was a wide one, it looked like a gaping mouth as you approached it, but not in a tacky ‘Cave of Doom’ kind of way. It was dim inside, not dark enough for us to need our flashlights, but enough for me to have to squint to make out any objects.
"Anything yet?" You asked, your voice taking on a deeper tone due to the cave’s acoustics. Your question echoes into the cave ahead of you, growing quieter and quieter before it was swallowed by the darkness.
"Nope, nothing. How old do you think we were?" My voice didn't seem to echo as far as yours, settling into the ground beneath us rather than venturing into the cave.
"Well, your Mom left Dirk in 1995 and we came here the year before. That would make me fifteen and you sixteen." I could feel the machinery whirring inside my head but the gears only stirred the air, unable to make the necessary contact with each other.
"So we were still in school then?"
"Yeah, of course.” It irritated you a bit when I forgot simple things like that, but it was an endearing kind of agitation. “Come on, how can you not remember this place? Don't you remember being in here with me? Two blossoming youths alone on a hot summer night..."
"Yeah right." I laughed, my chest bobbing in an out of the shadows as it shook. "If there's one thing I can say for sure, it's that my first time wasn’t in a sand cave when I was sixteen."
“How can you say you’re sure of anything.” You mumbled under your breath, hoping I couldn’t hear it.
“Because that’s how I choose to remember it,” I replied strongly, my voice echoing into the blackness beyond us, “and that’s what counts, isn’t it?” And we walked hand-in-hand out of the cave and into the dawn’s purple light, leaving no evidence we were there except some echoes in an infinite abyss.