For Geoff Dyer, for "The Rain Inside" in Yoga for People Who Can't be Bothered to Do it
"What do you think we were doing last year on May 15th?" my dad called from the hallway. Mom was washing up in her bathroom and didn't hear him; I had just globbed an excessive amount of lotion onto my palm and was easing it back into the dispenser. He walked up to the open doorway of my bathroom and said, "I guess you guys didn't hear me."
"No, I did, but I figured mom didn't." The answer to his question had already come to me: last year in May, we'd all been in Ventura and the only distinctive outing that came to mind was a boat trip to an island national park.
Before I could bother to say as much out loud, Dad announced, "We went to Anacapa. A year ago we were getting soaked and freezing our asses off."
Cutting across the ocean swells had caused a lot of water to surge over the boat's edge, much of it hitting me in the face. My raincoat had shielded the rest of me from most of it, and after a brief respite at the top of the island, my shorts had mostly dried out. I don't remember freezing. What I do remember distinctly is that Anacapa is where I lost my favorite sunglasses. Does lost even apply if you know where you left them but were just unable to retrieve them? That was perhaps the worst part of the loss.
I'd found the shades a few years earlier when I was visiting my parents. At one time they were probably my brother's; they were definitely from the eighties. The frames were black plastic and narrow, but not too narrow. The lenses were mirrored and curved around the sides making them excellent for driving. Since they were old, I was concerned that they wouldn't meet current standards for blocking UV radiation. I spent several weeks looking for a new pair like them and couldn't find anything close. I changed my tactics and found a place to test the shades; they blocked 92% of the UV rays and the technician said that was good enough. From then on, they were the only pair I'd wear. I felt cool in those shades as well as protected by their mirrored lenses. They were out of step with current trends but in step with my outlook. I loved those shades.
On the plateau of Anacapa, I took a lot of photographs. Sunglasses get in the way of shooting, so I hung them from my t-shirt collar while I explored. Having done this often, I knew I only had to be careful not to lose them if I bent over. The boat that took us to the island was on a strict schedule and being late for its return meant being stuck on the island overnight with no provisions or supplies. The time to leave was rapidly approaching so I made my way back past the spartan welcome center and paused at the base of a flagpole to get my gear in order. I placed my hat, camera, backpack, and sunglasses on the ground so I could put on the shirt and jacket tied around my waist. I thought more people would be heading back to the boat at this point and surmised I might be early. As I put my camera in its case and secured it in my backpack, a few stragglers appeared, and I realized that everyone had probably already descended the stairs down the side of the cliff to the dock which meant I was running late. I gathered my stuff and hustled to the stairs. There were a lot of people on the landing, but they had started loading the boat. I found my parents and waited to get on.
The swells were significant, so you had to wait for the boat to rise up to the dock's edge before stepping over. Then the boat would drop 6 feet and then rise again for the next passenger. Though there was a crew mate on the dock and one on the boat to help people across, some people stepped at an off moment and needed to be pulled back to the dock. Sometimes the swell dropped more rapidly than expected effectively removing the floor from the person who'd just stepped over. I don't have a fear of heights, but this was daunting. The two women helping people across were accustomed to it and attended to each person with a smile. We were on a schedule so there was no time for phobias; the second time the boat rose for me, I stepped across.
This time I opted to sit in the back of the boat preferring seasickness to getting drenched. I watched the boat rise and fall while passengers stepped aboard. I reached for my sunglasses and they weren't hanging from my shirt; I checked all my pockets, tore through my backpack, and looked around me on the boat: they were gone. I looked up at the twelve flights of black metal stairs leading to the island's plateau. My sunglasses were sitting under that damn flagpole just where I'd left them. There were only a handful of people left to board, and even if they would let me off (which I seriously doubted), they would be done loading passengers before I could climb the 153 stairs, retrieve my shades, and return. Time to act shortened with each rise of the boat. Maybe someone picked them up and would turn them in to lost & found. Maybe I could ask the crew to look for them when they returned the next day. Maybe my sunglasses are still somewhere on the boat. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Though I did force myself later to ask a crew mate if they were in the lost & found, I knew they were gone. All the maybes had just been thoughts to make myself feel better for not even attempting to get off the lurching boat to retrieve them. In my heart, I knew they were too cool to turn in, so I tried to picture the new pair I would replace them with already knowing I'd never find a pair just like them.
I was morose for days, the glaring sun a constant reminder of my failure. In a store in Santa Barbara, I did find a couple of comparable pairs, but they were designer frames costing $150 or more. Considering I'd just lost a pair, I wasn't willing to make that investment. Eventually I found a pair for eight bucks (I really should've bought a spare pair) that I've grown fond of. The frames are lighter, still black, with a sort of boxy narrow look with near black lenses, more modern.
When Dad brought up Anacapa this morning, I tried to stifle my loss with memories of the island's impressive vistas, but they just weren't as important to me. I miss my old shades.