August 21st

One year ago, as our family vacation at the beach drew to a close, I felt more than the usual end-of-vacation melancholy. All summer long we had been living with my mother, sheltering each other after my father’s unexpected death in July. And it had worked like a dream: in that idyllic bubble we created, temporarily freed from any commitments or expectations, we had managed to buffer each other from the worst of the shock and pain.  But like all dreams, it couldn’t last. After our vacation, we would be returning not to my mother’s house and our safe little bubble, but back to our house. Back to real life. And I wasn’t sure I was ready for it.


On August 21st (yes, I remember the exact date), I was unable to sleep. My nerves were frayed. My body and mind ached at the thought of my reentry into reality.  Only this was a reality that I could not envision. It was if I had been dropped in a foreign country where the terrain was unfamiliar and I didn’t speak the language. I had no map, no guidebook, and no idea where to go.

So I walked down to the beach in the middle of the night, reveling in the darkness which obscured the world around me. The waves crashed violently on the beach, drowning out all the voices in my head and for one brief moment I forgot everything but what was in front of me.

I lay down in the cool sand and watched as lightning on the horizon began to dance as if in some spectacularly choreographed production. There was no thunder, no rain, just lightning. Looking at the sky that night was like looking through a kaleidoscope. Varying combinations of pink and yellow and orange that mutated every time I blinked. It was nature’s version of a fireworks display and it was pure magic.

The electricity flashing on the horizon and the unbridled crashing of waves seemed to mimic the tumult in my own life. They seemed to understand the sturm and drang inside of me as I struggled to redefine my place not just in my family but in this new world.

I don’t believe in fate or some cosmic force that preordains one’s path in life. I believe in choices. And at that moment, I had to choose. I could pine away for the old world and dwell on what might have been. Or I could accept my new world and write my own fucking map.

I chose the latter.

And when I was done, I walked back up the dunes, fell into bed with the smell of salt still in my hair, and slept for the first time in months.

Much has changed since that night. Fireworks are big and bright and bold. But they fade. And the magic of that night, of that summer, faded too as I became mired in the monotony of the mundane.

A few weeks ago, Billy casually mentioned that I hadn’t posted anything since the anniversary of my dad’s death. Nothing about UVA basketball camp or my cousin’s wedding or our epic roadtrip. He wondered whether I was simply taking a summer hiatus or whether I thought the blog had run its course. Truth be told, I didn’t have an answer.

And then on August 21st of this year, I found myself on that same beach again. Sitting in the sand watching my boys play as the evening sun trickled out of view. There was no fantastic display of lightning coursing through the sky that night but there was magic.

The magic was in knowing that despite all the mistakes I have made this year, I loved harder and bigger than I ever have. Even when I failed. Even when I lost. The magic was in knowing that my dad would be proud of that.  The magic was in the peace of knowing that things might never be perfect but sometimes they are just right.

And as the boys ran across the sand and clamored into my lap, I swear I felt my dad’s hand resting quietly on my arm, telling me my story isn’t over.

My hiatus is over. I still have more to say.

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  1. Glad to see you back. Maybe this will spur me to quit posting 140 characters at a time and start blogging again. I lost my Dad in May and have been drifting in a fog too. Maybe we’ll see you at a game this Fall. Wahoowa!

    1. I’m so sorry John. The fog will eventually lift which is both a blessing and a curse. But grief is a funny thing. There comes a time when you don’t think about them every moment of every day but the hurt is more acute when you do. Not unlike our football team 🙂

  2. Enjoyed your blog…as usual…..Thanks for helping Flynny “surf” at the beach the other day. Katie Petchel’s Mom.

  3. Bravo! I look forward to reading more, Cameron. You’ve got a clear voice that rings true. I imagine your writing has had great therapeutic value for you and I know it has touched your readers. Thank you!

  4. You have an amazing talent for reaching one’s soul. I read your blogs and think so much of my Dad and although our stories are not similar, our love of family and moving on is so much the same. Thank you for what you share and for sharing your talent. You have no idea how many you touch. Thank you.