I still remember the day quite clearly, despite it being years ago. It was early September, and the days were still warm but their length was fading away. Children fearing the end of their vacation ran through the waters of low tide in a vain attempt to capture the final glimpse of summer. Sitting in those sands, beside a still sea, I sat and read a book that touched on the concept of the fear of failing. It was a compelling read.
There was a moment when I paused, when the ocean breeze seemed to hint at its presence only to die down again. I looked up and saw her walking by. Her movement was aimless, pointless. She slowly spun her arms in the air and told the world that she was without a care. She drug her toes across the flat sand and made dancing shapes with her feet. I watched her slender form, a silhouette bathed in the golden light of the setting sun, as she floated along before me. Playful strings of her bikini bounced around her hip and dangled from her back. Her hair, a blooming of blonde in the afternoon light, was bound on top of her head and sprung delicate curls around her ears. I watched her dance across those sands and into a place in my heart that even I never knew about.
I didn’t notice her twiddling fingers as a small wave in my direction. My mesmerized mind only took it for part of her beautiful dance. It was when she paused and said hi that she startled me. I jerked in my seat and fumbled my book, nearly losing the page. She may have smiled then, flattered by the honesty of my gesture, but if she did, she didn’t smile much longer. I ducked down behind my book in terror, certain that she was offended by my watching. Looking back, I understand how ridiculous that must seem, but it’s surprising how quickly sanity can flee from an amazing moment. When I lowered my book for a second peek, there was a look on her face that forever stained my mind. It was a look of genuine hurt. The dance that had so recently filled her body was gone. The angle of the sun shifted a bit more, and the golden light lost its tone. My startled state shifted to shame, and I shoved my face behind the page again. There it stayed for several minutes until I was certain she was gone.
When I finally looked again, she was. The beach had taken that sudden shift where it goes from swarming with life and light to being all but abandoned. I stood and closed my book and walked to the edge of the beach. I found her footsteps. I found her dancing feet. I watched the beautiful toe-drags of twists and twirls find their way to the place that was before me, that terrible place where they died. It was from then on that she took a normal stride. I stared at these markings in the sand, safe from the erasing waves stuck in low tide, and felt hollow inside.
I returned to that beach for several weeks in vain. I needed to offer an apology, but that woman never came. I never saw her again. And as I recall, I never finished reading the book that touched on the concept of the fear of failing.