You harbor the wounded. War torn veterans with limps, missing limbs and scars, fill your street corners. Hats with eagles, flags, and USA on each one’s head, gray wispy hair untucked around the edges. Lawn chairs in circles, coffee in styrofoam cups, laughter on everyone’s face as they watch the people go by. Walking up and down the beach, step by step, letting the abled bodied army wives and their strollers pass by at breakneck speeds.
You welcome the brave. Kids so young they still have innocence in their eyes as they get the standard buzz cut at the local barbershop. Half price for our boys. Huge American flags against the wall behind them bleed red, white and blue into their confidence as they talk deep, staying strong in spite of uncertainty. The barber speaks to them about preparing for their first days of bootcamp, or heading back to base after a weekend home, shaving off the growth to get them back in line.
You protect the broken. With so few people not in active duty during the day your streets are filled with the homeless, the forgotten, the angry and unhinged. They work through the dumpsters, hang out in front of the stores or stand on the beach yelling at their demons. They seem more prolific here due to the absence of everyone else. They have become part of your landscape though, accepted with compassion by their fellow inhabitants, both having waged battles I’ll never know.
You bear character. Gang members covered in tattoos fish along side and share bait with retired Marines barely able to open the shell to get the oyster on the hook. More seagulls and pigeons have only one leg than not. The pelicans majestically perch next to tourists as they take pictures, with a look of resignation to the photographer’s excitement. Everyone has a story to tell, and they do so as the sun rises over the diners on the harbor, taking breaks to chew their scrambled eggs and sip their coffee that they’ve had there a hundred times before.
You carry us through. Splitting the town in half, the train tracks provide a path for travelers to make their way from Los Angeles to San Diego and back, but no one really ever gets off to visit your quiet beaches filled only with local surfers from dawn until noon. Still the train blows its horn every hour as it rushes through, stopping only the old men on beach cruisers from riding over your tracks as they meander through town, wobbling in and out of the bike lanes.
You are dynamic. Your beaches switch from sandy and welcoming to rocky and violent the further south they stretch. You reminded me of my father. And my mother. You wavered from cloudy and rainy days to skies of impeccable blue, a town I needed to go out with a coat on just so I could take it off a few hours later. You are old and you are young. You are beautiful but it’s sometimes hard to look you in the eyes.
You will be missed. You made me feel at home for the first time in a while. Your people smiled as they passed. You reminded me what pride and sacrifice looks like, and that I had lost sight of both in myself. You showed me the judgement in every thought I had and how unnecessary it was if I just let go. You carefully walked me through twenty days of sobriety and saw a different man leave than the one that entered. I stumbled through learning confidence, self compassion and patience, and am glad to have done so here.