The Sand and the Water

ROB AND ME ON BEACH

I was walking on the boardwalk at Venice Beach yesterday morning, and if you get here early enough, it’s kind of peaceful and beautiful. The annoying tourists haven’t yet descended from their hotels and Airbnbs, and the equally annoying homeless are still asleep in their ramshackle tents. As I looked out on the horizon where the ocean meets the sky, all I thought about was Rob and me—aka the sand and the water.

We didn’t spend nearly enough time here as we should have, but that didn’t stop me from seeing Rob everywhere I looked.

I walked past the skate park where he would sometimes go right about the same time of day I was there, before the really good skateboarders dropped in to perform gnarly tricks for the sightseers to post on Instagram.

“I can’t keep up with those guys anymore,” I remember Rob telling me, “although I still love to do it and can still take a fall.” For as long as he lived with us, he had the bruises and skinned knees to prove it.

Walking along the boardwalk heading toward Santa Monica, I passed a bunch of bike and surf shops and then a T-shirt place where he worked for a brief time. Rob liked hanging out with some of the other kids who worked there (mainly because they were all getting high together), but he hated scamming the tourists, who were routinely overcharged—sometimes by hundreds of dollars—for custom T’s and sweatshirts.

“I feel bad for them and I feel bad doing it,” he told me, “but that’s the stupid job.”

I strolled by one of the many restaurants where he tried to get other stupid jobs. All I remember about this particular rundown cafe is that the bartender told Rob that the owner was about to sell the place and it wouldn’t be such a smart move to start there any time soon. That was almost two years ago.

A scruffy young guy wearing what must have been his only pair of pants and had duct tape around his sneakers was washing his dirty face in the water fountain. I immediately flashed on how I used to worry that Rob might end up homeless and living on the beach just a few minutes away from us. That was my worst nightmare until he figured out an even better one.

My other shitty memory about this sunny place is when I picked him up right under the iconic Venice sign at the intersection of Windward and Pacific to drive him to the emergency room the first time he was suicidal and the umpteenth time he broke my heart. We never got to build any sandcastles on the beach this time around.

I turned around, now walking toward Marina del Rey, and noticed a few people riding Bird scooters, a jogger getting in her daily run and an older couple holding hands. And of course it wouldn’t be Venice if I hadn’t smelled the sweet stank of weed in the air. Pretty soon I sat down on a cement bench and just gazed at the magnificent ocean. I need to come here more often, I said to myself, and I remembered how hopeful Rob was when he first moved out to L.A. And then, as has been the case recently, I started talking to him.

Dude, it’s so fuckin’ nice here today. It would be nicer if you were here with me, but you kinda are. You’re right here on my arm, always and forever. You are the sand, little boy, and I will always be the water. Although now it’s mostly just tears.

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