Today marks the third anniversary of T’s Batten disease diagnosis.
My family escaped to the South Carolina coast for a few fleeting days this week. We had perfect weather, but the cotton ball-dotted blue sky and soft breeze couldn’t mask the changes that have marked the past several years. My brother, a college senior-to-be, is taller and more serious than he was last summer. The beachfront condo we’ve inhabited for one or, if we’re lucky, several weeks each year since I was 6 years old, is a little more tired; the sea spray and SPF that rode the wind to the eighth floor and settled as a thick film on the balcony’s sliding glass doors to be discovered the night we arrived inspired Windex and paper towels, not weathered charm. My little sister’s post-brain surgery hair is more chestnut than golden. Her eyes are unseeing.
Yesterday, as I soaked up the sun’s rays and the pages of my open book fluttered in the breeze, I drifted away and recalled summers spent lying in the surf as the waves washed over me, imagining that I was shipwrecked. When I returned to the present and opened my eyes, I saw my sister, standing upright as the waves crashed over only her ankles and feet; my sister is on a drug therapy that suppresses her immune system, making ocean water too dangerous for whole days spent tummy-down in the wet sand.
When I was T’s age, I used to stand on the very same beach and wonder how many grains of sand made up the vast expanse that stretched all the way to the horizon in either direction. It wasn’t until later that I understood just why counting all of them could never be possible.
I won’t ever know how many grains of sand make up the beach I’ve walked for more than twenty years or even a shovelful. I know that some things are not possible.
After I snapped out of my shipwrecked daydream, Mom, T, and I walked along the inlet that carves out a crescent swath in the sand within sight of our sea spray and SPF-caked balcony doors. For a reason unknown, I remarked that mole crabs, or sand fleas, seemed to have disappeared from the beach in recent years. I described the animal to T and how Stephen and I used to scoop handfuls of them out of the sand below the tide line. I described their smooth gray shells and squirming legs that searched desperately for sand to burrow into even as you held them up in the air. But to help T understand sand fleas, I really needed to have one.
Without a live model, the subject changed to the inlet’s transformation and the apparent struggle of the beach’s newest construction to sell units. Some time later, after we’d turned back for home, I looked down and spotted two minuscule pockets of churning sand. I bent over and scooped up a handful of doubtless thousands of grains of wet sand; there, in my palm, were two sand fleas.