The Pier
             We’re standing, gazing into what seems to be the outskirts of the world we know, but what truly is a pier stretched into the night on Navarre Beach in Florida. Behind us is the noise of people moving on with their lives. The vacationers in condos stretched along a darkening beach are showering and crawling into bed, after a long day of parasailing or sun-tanning. Some lights are switched off for the night, most of them remain bright, highlighting the beach below.    Late night beachers look like lightning bugs along the shore, chasing sand crabs with flashlights.
               Most of the audience is tired of watching and begin heading back towards the condos, the main action of the night seeming to be over. We have all just watched a group of men gut a stingray to use as bait—shark bait.
               Dad and I watch as the men, gracefully as possible, drop the pungent stingray over the railing and down onto a kayak cut in half. They motor-control the rigged boat into the abyss, stingray in tow, until it is nearly out of eyesight to tug the 600-yard fishing line and let the bait drop into the ocean. Then, we wait.
               In front of us is a canvas of water and sky, a black night blanketing even darker waves, the full moon to the east illuminating a path in stark contrast to the darkness surrounding us.
               In spite of the buzz of excitement awaiting the catch of the night, the fishermen stand in silence. The waves splash against the cemented legs of the pier underneath us. Conversations are spoken softly, in harmony with the cool breeze blowing through our hair from the Gulf.
               It smells strongly of fish guts, and lightly of cigarette smoke. There isn’t much to do but watch the fishermen send out bait for the sharks they hope to catch tonight.
               So we wait, but there’s a peace in waiting. Dad and I sit side by side, learning the ropes, though we both know we’ll probably never go fishing for sharks ourselves.
               “How long have you been doing this?” someone asks the young fisherman as he sets the third pole diagonally against the rail of the pier. The reel is probably the size of my head.
               “A good while, about four years,” he answers. And you can tell it’s been a while, the way he mindlessly goes about his work, answering the same questions he probably hears every weekend.
               “You must have lots of patience to be able to wait like this,” says the kid who finally discovers these men are out here to catch sharks.
               “It’s a modified bullshit process, says the older fisherman, having 99-sharks experience in the matter.
               We learn about how much the rods cost and that last year they caught a hammerhead shark right off of this pier. It dragged the fishing line all the way to shore.
               We have no phone, watch or digital way to tell the time. Dad and I watch the people, the water, and notice the stars that appear one by one over our heads.
               Every once in a while I notice the moon getting higher in the sky, its spotlight path glowing wider, the only thing signifying the time passing.
               And I realize, this is where time stops. This is where you don’t have time to think about your responsibilities or your problems. This is where you can’t help but imagine the miles and miles of ocean past the perfectly straight horizon ahead of you. This is where you forget the world around you for a whole moment, let your eyes adjust to the dark, and let yourself feel freedom in the breeze that overtakes you.
               This is where time stops, so that you notice it doesn’t. This is where you realize you need to notice the beauty of the world around you. You need to live and love, but stop to breathe while you do it.
               Dad is tired and I’m ready to raid the fridge for a bottled water, so we decide to head back.
               We don’t see much action except for a toddler kiss a dead fish lying on the pier in the midst of everything, a show that had everyone clapping and a laughing mother fretfully searching for a wet wipe.
               We leave without seeing a shark, but we leave content all the same. We turn our backs to the sky that I have photographed in my memory, and walk down the pier, back to real life, where time doesn’t stop.
                I turn and take one last glance at the full moon, high above all the fishermen. It seems as if it’s watching us, saying look at me, stop and look, before you know it, I’ll be gone.
               And it will be, but then it will be back. We won’t always have moments where we stop and notice that time doesn’t. But sometimes we will slow down, and watch the moon and the stars, and think of how infinite we are in comparison to the immense universe we live in. We’ll think of how the moon sees us all at once, rising high above us, illuminating paths across a never-resting ocean and a never-stopping world.
               The next day, one fisherman told the next that a shark had been caught late in the night or early hours of the morning. I wasn’t upset I missed it, and I don’t think Dad was either. Frankly, I don’t feel as if I missed anything at all.
Ode to a Broken Wooden Swing
                 All that’s left of the swing Dad built, long before I was built, are two A-frames, a pair of handle bars on a rusty chain we used to swing upside down on that almost looks black and white now, a broken metal horn on the left side that hasn’t made a noise as long as I’ve made noise, and a garden of white-flowered weeds growing where the swing used to cast a blinded shadow over the grass below it.

                  It’s a reminder of what’s lost, but what’s still a picture that’s forever framed in my memory.

                  I’d sit on that swing for hours and flip pages or hold them down so the wind wouldn’t flip them for me on a breathy spring day. I’d change positions until I could stay comfortable for a minute or until the sun wasn’t burning my skin through my t-shirt or turning the tops of my thighs a light shade of pink.

                  The brandings are still there, tattoos harboring many late-night fires, where we’d heat up the poker until it was sizzling red, and we’d hold it up against the old, chipped wood until a Y made its black mark among the scratches and cracks. Then we’d watch the smoke hiss off of the poker after sticking it in a chilled pool, despite the hot Louisiana sun that heated it in the daytime.

                  Our names are gone, but I can still see them. I can see the times Chelsea and I sat and talked about kisses and boys and boys and kisses. About out big family and the friends who wronged us. About school and fee bills and the stress of homework. We etched our names on that top bar our backs leaned against as our bare toes brushed the tall grass beneath the graying wood.

                  I shared many a second kiss there on that swing. I broke one heart swaying slowly back and forth on the splintery wood. Things began and ended there. I would sit in silence stare up at the five or so stars I could glimpse from my small square of a backyard.

                  I remember the water creeping up below the not-much-longer white fence surrounding a backyard full of the objects I grew up with, but are they merely objects if some of them have been here longer than I have?

                  I wasn’t here when the water climbed up the A-frame, and engulfed the seat of that swing where I’ve sat so many times with my knees pulled up to my chin and my arms wrapped around them, small hands cradling the fragile pages of some book.

                  I came back to find the black muck that made it’s home in my home and in the old fractures on that swing. I hoped and prayed we could save it. But the next day I looked and it was gone.

                  So now I sit on the concrete surrounding a newly-lined pool with blue water that was once a murky green-brown, and reflect on the empty A-frame with my book laying face-down next to me. I long dearly for the familiar feel of that splintery wood beneath my legs and the screech of the red and silver chains above my head that probably would’ve fallen any second.

                  Nothing is permanent except the words said, the songs sang, the periods of my life that began and ended right there on that swing.

                  In life, we take the things we have for granted, but the things we have grant us memories. Hold onto those. No rising water nor blazing fire can ever take those away.