Pay Attention

I took a sunset walk down the beach in Isla Vista, CA. Here's what happened.

You bike down Del Playa away from campus. It's a typical evening. People are taking their dogs out for walks, biking home from class, blasting music after a long day of work. You take a breath and try to forget about the stress of the day: the nonexistent paper that's due tomorrow, the midterm score that doesn't reflect the hours you spent in the library, and the neighbors who kept you up all night playing beer games in their yard - again. But none of that matters right now. What matters is the way the grass at Dogshit Park is glowing in the low sunlight, the way the breeze is playing with your hair, and the fact that for this brief period, you don't need to think about anything.

5:30 pm. The clouds are pink and gold. It's low tide. The light breeze carries the beginnings of an evening chill, and you take one slow, deep breath.
You exit Dogshit Park onto the bluffs. People are accumulating along the cliffs. Pay attention:
A runner pants as she jogs past you. She'll stop soon to glance at the sky.
A girl paces on the phone with her mother. She’s stressed, overwhelmed, and just wants to go home.
Reggae music drifts in your direction from a group huddled on a blanket nearby. The musk of marijuana hangs in the air.
"I'm so proud of him!" Two girls point as a surfer catches a wave. They've never met him.
A balcony bubbles over with acoustic guitar and original lyrics.
A dog tugs impatiently on its leash to make friends with the approaching golden retriever. Their owners follow suit as they spark a conversation.
Two elderly women compare pictures of the vibrant sky.
The path becomes more crowded. Listen closely: "Becky, are you gonna move in?"
"I spent hella hours shopping today."
"There's this girl who walks around in a bikini at like 5:30 in the morning."
"My friend cut his head off, does anyone have any gauze?"
"I haven’t seen you since last year. How have you been?"
"I can see myself being with him for the rest of my life."
"You need to do what's best for you. Please remember to take care of yourself."
A dog barks from a balcony and muffles their voices.
You glance at the water. The surfers aren't interested in waves anymore. They've become a part of the sunset.
You've passed the wooden stairs. You glance at the bike rack where you parked.
It's full.

5:40 pm. The clouds are indigo and fuchsia. The water is fiery orange. You can see the wet sand glistening as you continue along the bluff. You move over for a passing bike. Crickets chirp.
You're feeling a nip of cold, and fold your arms tightly. Keep walking.
Two girls take pictures of each other pretending to laugh.
The lights of a drone over the water catch the corner of your eye.
A photographer stands up with sand all over his shirt — but he got the picture.
You see people alone along the bluffs. They're meditating. Journaling. Crying. Taking advantage of five minutes with no worries, except this view's inevitable fall to darkness.
Someone smiles at the words of a long-distance lover on the phone.
More snippets:
"I mean, I've only been hit by a car once."
"It was just me with a bunch of tiny kids and I was like, 'I need to wash my hands.'"
"Your whole weekend is probably sports, huh?"
"This picture isn't doing it justice."
A group of rowdy, shirtless guys parade past you, carrying well-loved spike ball equipment. Their discussion about Super Bowl beer preferences overpowers the others. A man follows behind them, smiling at the baby in his arms.

5:50 pm. The sky is dark purple, clouds charcoal. The sun has just barely dipped out of your sight. The breeze picks up. You shiver in the chilled air.
Some friends decide the show has ended and begin packing up their hammocks.
You dodge bikers returning to their warm living rooms.
A couple puts a stopper on their bottle of wine.
People shake the sand from their towels and blankets, then wrap themselves for warmth.
Good conversations aren't ready to end yet. Maybe they'll stay to see the stars come out.
The oil rig's lights sparkle on the calm water.

6:00 pm. The sky is dark. The first stars are twinkling. You can see the moon low in the distance, sparkling on the water's uneven surface. Your nose is numb, but it doesn’t bother you.
The bluffs are vacated, except for a couple slow dancing in silence.
You walk your bike toward the street and look back at the bike rack.
It's empty.

You bike down Del Playa, back toward campus. It seems like a typical evening. People are making dinner, visiting with friends, beginning to hunker down with their textbooks. You take a deep breath and try not to forget about the most important part of your day: the vibrant sky, the breeze just cool enough to make you shiver, the feeling of being alone, but not being lonely. It's a scene you see every day. It isn't a surprise. It isn't anything new. But it’s the one thing that can make you believe that every once in a while, even if only for a brief period, you don’t need to think about anything.

This article was originally published in WORD Magazine.

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About Cassidy Emenger

I'm Cassidy, a writer specializing in digital marketing & creative journalism. If you like my work, drop me a message. I live for collaboration.

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