My tears surprise me almost as much as my view of the turquoise blue waters of the Pacific Ocean that continue on forever beyond the islands that dot the bay.
I try to keep my sobs buried inside, but as my hands dig deeper into the sand, my cries grow as my sandcastle turrets are formed.
I wipe my eyes with the back of my arms as my hands become caked with shells and wet sand. Salt coats my face from the tears, the water, and the wind at the beach. If someone comes upon me – my tears can easily be blamed on the beach conditions and not on mine.
Who cries on a beach in Costa Rica – a beach filled with sunshine, crushed shells, bronzed and happy vacationers, a melting pina colada resting in the sand near my hip, and an ocean that beckons happiness with waves that lap at my toes like a a playful tickle almost demanding complete bliss to anyone who comes near.
I spend hours on my creation. My crude castle is built with the only tools I have – my hands, some shells, my heart and soul, and the memories of the sandcastle that we built together last year on a beach about 80 kilometers south of where I now sit.
I dig deep to bring up the wet sand and I create large wells and moats around the buildings. My plan of one or two simple and quick buildings turns to eight and soon a small city. Some are taller than others, but all have the finishing touch that she taught me to add – rows of shells top the building like the frosting on a cake to declare the completion. I pick her favorite colored shells – in hues of yellow and orange as I play the child that I miss so much.
As I cry remembering her last lisped filled words before I flew to Costa Rica this time without her.
“Mommy, all I want you to do is build a sandcastle for me and send me a picture.”
The sand takes the imprint of my foot – my present, but leaves a deeper one of what I’ve left behind. Just months ago the waves crashed on 50 toes as five bodies browned in the hot sun. Three children’s gleeful voices rang loud at the sight of howling monkeys and horses on the beach. We ate outside as a family in the early dark nights listening to the waves and animals in the damp Costa Rican air together.
But now I’m alone.
Vacationing in a new place as a family is like sharing the very best secrets together. Memories and places and times and experiences that can be told to others but can never really be understood. We can share in great detail about our day riding horses through the jungles and galloping on the beach. But unless you were there, you will never know or remember the joy on our faces, the small moments of conversation and discoveries, the smell of the salt air mixed with the wet horse hair, or how the local lunch tasted of newness and goodness like no other lunch will ever taste. Like this is a secret society of discovery or a club that only allows you in half way without whispering the password of our family.
And now I feel like I am betraying our family trust by heading to our secret club without my people. Can I enjoy the beach and beauty of this country fully without whispering to them about my experiences. Am I cheating on our memories.
This is how it is within a family. Shared secrets and dances and lives all intertwined together with a lock to keep others out of our most sacred moments together.
And family travel builds this club house even stronger like the largest scavenger hunt where we all learn and win. Discovering new together is a bond that holds like no other. And why Costa Rica will always be “ours” and never just mine or theirs no matter how many times we go together or alone. And I know that many other places will be the same. From the corners of the Earth to the coffee shop we all share down the street.
So I don’t stop my tears as I step back and admire my love work in the sand. But I do smile as I kneel down to take the picture she requested. Making sure I include the ocean beyond the yellow colored shells that I so carefully picked out just for her.
And I close my eyes and easily bring back the memories of building sandcastles together where I can almost feel her small hands touching mine in the sand, and I know there are many more for us to build together.
Memories and sandcastles.