Returning to school was hard on both of us. The stress of classes and deadlines and the hit-or-miss cafeteria food took their toll, turning us into tense, zombified caricatures of ourselves.
For me, especially, the separation was agonizing. So early on, we decided to take the weekend after Labor Day and head east to the beach.
That first year we pitched our tent at Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware. The sites there are close together and sandy, with only a few scraggly pine trees to screen us from our neighbors. We were about 10 steps from the bathhouse, but we didn’t care.
We crawled out of our sleeping bags early the next morning and rode our bikes to the ferry. We watched the sun creep over the horizon and tickle the waves as the ship lumbered across the Delaware Bay to New Jersey. He was sleepy and dozed on a wooden bench while I watched the white caps of the wake.
Morning was never his best time, and we had a grumpy ride to the shore on our bikes, loaded down with beach towels and swimsuits and sunscreen. I wondered if we had made the right choice, coming here. It was a special place to me; the restored Victorian homes gave the town a charm absent from the other beaches in the area. It was a quiet place — quaint, beautiful, and easygoing.
He didn’t have much to say, pedaling along with his shoulders hunched over his handlebars and his eyes closed in slits against the morning light. I pointed out the scenery, but it seemed like he barely noticed. I wondered again if this trip had been a good idea.
We found a spot to lock our bikes and staggered onto the sand. The weather was perfectly clear, with a breeze blowing in off the ocean. The beach was practically deserted. I stood for a while, gazing at the Atlantic stretching before me, breathing in salt air tinged with the scent of hand-cut french fries.
When I looked back he had stretched out on his towel, every muscle in his body relaxed. He smiled up lazily at me, and for the first time his blue eyes didn’t have a shadow of stress or frustration flickering in them.
I glanced back at the ocean and saw a pod of dolphins leaping out of the waves and skimming along the top of the water. And I smiled.