Other day. Tuesday. I’m bobbing about in Oyster Pond, not exactly swimming, more like engaging in some directed drift, around the barrel-supported rafts at the farthest reaches of the roped in swimming area, lazily batting aside moon jellies, which I don’t see but feel on the backs of my hands as sudden and a subtle pockets of tautness in the water, ducking my head when the green head flies come find me, but except for the flies and the jelly fish all alone and mightily enjoying the solitude, until I realize I’m hearing voices. A young couple, a boy and a girl in their late teens or early twenties, have swum out and climbed aboard the nearest raft while my attention was on something else.
They’re stretched out in the sun, she lying full-length on her back, he propped up on his elbows beside her, and they’re holding a quiet but apparently cheerful conversation. I don’t know what they’re talking about because I don’t speak whatever Eastern European language they’re speaking.
College students working on the Cape for the summer. Tip jars on the counters of coffee shops and snack bars around here are labeled with the names of schools like Southwestern University of Bulgaria and Odessa State.
I couldn’t make out their faces. I don’t wear my glasses when I’m swimming. But they were lean and fit and deeply tanned and beautiful in outline. Their voices were filled with affectionate familiarity, flirtatious but not intimate, although a couple of times she shrieked and then laughed nervously in an embarrassed but thrilled despite herself way at something he said and then spoke sharply quite clearly telling him to cut it out in their language. Mostly, though, their talk was just the this and that back and forth of a young couple contentedly in love enjoying each other’s company.
They weren’t taking any notice of me but I felt awkward and intrusive for taking notice of them and I pushed off towards shore to give them the privacy I thought they deserved.
Back on the beach, I looked out at the raft. They were still there, still talking. “Were we ever that young?” I thought to myself with amusement, affection, nostalgia, and a touch of regret. “We must have been. So how come I don’t remember it?”
I’m telling you this so that when I tell you about this other couple and you suspect a Hey you kids, get off my lawn quality in what I tell you, you’ll give me some credit and not dismiss me as an old fogey grumping that youth is wasted on the young. I’m an old fogey who likes to see the young making the most of their youth and the sight of couples like the boy and girl at Oyster Pond make me happy even while I mourn my own lost youth.
This other couple though…
Saturday. Lighthouse Beach. The Mannions and Uncle Merlin are frolicking in the numbingly cold surf. Turning blue, I take a quick look up at the beach and the long dash across the sand to the nearest warm towel and I see that this couple has spread out on their towels and blanket right next to our stuff where they have gotten busy making the most of their youth.
I confess to having gotten carried away a few times in my day. There were moments in open fields and shady glens and empty classrooms and parked cars and parents’ basements and, once, a library stairwell where the privacy I assumed we had stolen was more of a lucky gift and there was no reason that no one came along to interrupt except that no one ever did.
That I know of.
But I never went looking for an audience.
It wasn’t as if they could think they had stumbled on a temporarily secluded spot that they were too young and too much in love to resist taking advantage of. While our towels and chairs were empty, other towels and chairs and blankets around and about were not.
They had company on all sides, a dozen or so people of all ages and sorts and conditions sharing a single thought.
“Get a dune!”
She was on top, straddling his hips, and she was not sitting still. He held her gently, his hands just above her waist. They were like the other couple lean and fit and deeply tanned and beautiful in outline, but they were also beautiful close up too. Not movie star beautiful or model beautiful or even professional athlete beautiful. Beautiful the way averagely good looking people will be for a relatively short period in their youth when a combination of good health, good spirits, genetic luck, and a suffusion of hormones cause them to blossom like gorgeous wildflowers. This happens to different people at different times. For some it occurs in their late teens or early twenties, for others it holds off until they are in their late twenties or even early thirties. These two, who I judged were twenty-one or twenty-two, were blossoming together.
I’ve always believed that couples who engage in prolonged public displays of affection have no other way of engaging with each other. They don’t talk because they have nothing to say.
I can’t swear this was the case with this couple. But they stayed on the beach the whole while we were there and they weren’t lip-locked or hip-locked the whole time and the only time either of them did any talking at length was when he saw a friend of his and went over to say hi. She tagged after him but she didn’t join in and he showed no sign of wanting to include her. She hung back, the conversation stayed between the two guys, and when it ended the couple went back to their blanket and their mutual near silence.
It’s easy to imagine that they had nothing in common but the fact that they were both perfect at the same time. And it’s satisfying to think that in the not too distant future she’ll be out with friends and see him with his new girlfriend and say, “Can you believe he’s going with her? She’s fat!” or that he’ll be out with his friends and see her and say, “What’s she doing with him? He’s a geek!”
And it’s pleasant to imagine that the first couple’s conversation will continue, with the same affection and cheerfulness and flirtatiousness on through their Fiftieth Anniversary.
But life doesn’t work that way, does it?
Because they talk to each other and listen, the first couple might figure out sooner that they’re on different paths and need to go their separate ways.
Because they don’t talk, the second couple might never figure it out and proceed happily towards their Fiftieth Anniversary with no clue and no thought that they each might have had a different sort of life.
The first couple might be talking themselves out of a romance and into a friendship. The second couple, having exhausted themselves one night, might start chatting amiably and discover they can’t shut up and they’ve begun a conversation full of affection and good humor and flirtation that will go on year after year without end end until one of them can no longer talk anymore.
But for sentimental reasons my money’s on the first couple. The second couple’s having their fun now and it’s enough and good for them. Good luck to them both in whatever comes next. But I want to believe that twenty or twenty-five years from now the first couple will be down here with their kids and he’ll look out from the beach one day and see another couple on the float, talking, and he’ll think with more amusement and affection than nostalgia and regret, “Were we ever that young?”