I’ve returned to that tiny beach town in Maine, 1985. Back then, a young girl had died in a small plane accident and we saw Stop Making Sense and I bought that too-big jacket and the vans and reporters were there for that crash but we pretended they were there for us, until we felt sad and guilty because this letter the girl who died had sent to the Soviet Union a few years before, asking for peace, and well…I am getting off track.
Later, that dog struggled in the waves, going under, popping back up, each time a little less above the foam. I was paralyzed but you didn’t hesitate. You ran into the water and snatched that dog up and even then, both of you fighting the surf, none of it registered, nothing in my brain said move, run, save them.
So, I don’t know. I’d like to think that if I went back somehow, if a twister came and I jumped inside and it had the power to take me back that I would emerge with powers and I’d snatch everyone up and out. But I have this odd sense that I still couldn’t.
And here I am now. In that tiny beach town. That movie theatre still stands. That little girl ends up on a stamp in the USSR and it’s here, along with plaques and a copy of her letter.
I’m not saying things clearly. I’m in Maine, and I am thinking of that piece of my past and the part you played in it. It keeps surfacing, like that dog’s snout in those waves. I lost my mind and you. After that trip, I spent four years—four years—in our Chicago apartment, unable to leave. Did you know that?—how long after you left that I remained?
This morning, I returned to the promontory with that Polaroid of you and that saved dog, both speckled with sand, dripping. I lay it on the edge of rock, waited for the ocean to come for it, begin to pull it away, waited to see if anything would rise within me this time to answer it.
Instead, a yell ran toward me, “You dropped something.” It belonged to a redheaded kid, a flicker. I stood as paralyzed as ever.
“I lost my breath,” the kid said, bent over. She picked up the picture, examined it. “Is that her?” she asked.
“Your dog. Are you looking for her?” She scanned the waters. “Maybe she can swim underwater. I can. All the way.”
“It was a long time ago.”
“In a galaxy far, far away. I just saw Star Wars. Wicked cool. I’m going to do that.”
“What? Be a Jedi?”
“No. That isn’t real. Save the galaxy.”
Barely audible shouts reached us from the shore. An old man. I couldn’t understand him, but he gestured wildly.
“I think your grandfather wants you to go back.”
She reached her arms to me. I don’t know what came over me, but I picked her up. She was heavier than I thought. She wiped the ocean spray off my face with one hand, still held the crinkling Polaroid in her other too-tiny one. No wonder, as we made our way to her PopPop, that the photo flew out, fluttered in front of me, a new kind of bug. I did a stupid thing, reached for it and she slipped from my grip.
I don’t know how I did it, but I moved so fast, faster than the tides and the waves, and I was under her, stopping her from bouncing away.
“Again,” she said, “again.”
I handed her over. The grandfather kept wanting to give me something, a handful of bills, but I didn’t want them and he wouldn’t give up, so I just took off—“May the Force be with you,” the little girl shouted—and here I am, finishing up. I’m sorry about not moving for you, about that stillness in the face of it all. I wanted to be your rock, but that wasn’t the right wish, was it?
Here’s a picture of that letter Samantha Smith sent to the Premier. I thought you might like it.
Dear Mr. Andropov,
My name is Samantha Smith. I am ten years old. Congratulations on your new job. I have been worrying about Russia and the United States getting into a nuclear war. Are you going to vote to have a war or not? If you aren’t please tell me how you are going to help to not have a war. This question you do not have to answer, but I would like to know why you want to conquer the world or at least our country. God made the world for us to live together in peace and not to fight.