This morning Mom took me to the dog beach, where a dog can let his life partner run without a leash through the sand for miles and miles. Sand is hard for running because your pushing off turns to pushing in as the sand smears and your feet disappear into the earth. The trick is to run in the place that is sometimes sand and sometimes sea.
But this morning the wet sand wasn’t working right. It refused to behave like solid earth and was swallowing our paws with every step. Mom’s running (which was never very spritely to begin with) was even stickier and more plodding than usual. “Ugh! Why?!” Mom groaned. “Why is everything so much harder than it needs to be lately?”
“Is the world falling apart maybe?” I said, looking at how the earth was having trouble holding Mom up, and wondering if she might be erased like footprints by the next wave, or sucked away into the oblivion.
“Nah, the world isn’t falling apart, it’s just high tide. When the water’s high like this it just gets to the places where the sand is more stirred up and hasn’t had enough to make it settle. And there’s less beach to walk on, so everyone’s forced closer together and gets in everyone’s way.”
Just then we caught up to where two dogs were wrestling. Mom likes me to stay close to her when we’re running past other dogs because I can be a bit of an “asshowl,” which means that I think it’s fun to get up in another dog’s grill and bark in his face until he can’t play his game anymore. But in this spot the ocean was crowding in on one side and the cliffs were herding us in close on the other, and there was no way to go around them and pretend I didn’t notice how they were doing it wrong. So I simply couldn’t help but get involved. While Mom was inching past, I joined in to their game as a referee, chasing them around the sand and calling out fouls and penalty shots. When they paid me no nevermind I barked that I was giving them a red card.
After we’d run a mile or so it began to dawn on me that there was something wrong with the knot of dogs that was plugging up the beach in the distance. The dogs seemed unnaturally large, and the human shapes, although still taller than the dogs, weren’t grouped right. I held my nose in the air and sniffed. “MOM! THEY’RE HORSES!!!” I barked.
“Oh lord,” Mom said. “This is just what we need. I didn’t bring a leash.”
“Oh goody! Horses! Horses! Horses!” I panted, stretching out the elastic of how far Mom would let me go before she said something, and getting ready to sprint if she wasn’t watching.
“No!” Mom said. And, “Stay close!” Mom said. And, “Eeeeeasy…” Mom said. And when we were so close I could smell every hair on their giant rumps, Mom said, “Eh, eh, eh!” which is what she says when she can see my thought bubbles and doesn’t like what she sees there.
The horse parade was marching in the good sand down by the waves, so Mom got on my wave-side and veered up onto the dry and disordered sand, forcing me toward the cliffs with her. I wanted to introduce myself to the horses, but Mom kept her body in the way no matter how fast I ran. I ran faster, and she ran faster, so I ran faster still and she ran faster still. When we were halfway to the front, one of the people on top of the horses turned and smiled at Mom in a friendly way. I could hear Mom thinking that she wanted to show the woman the finger that didn’t mean “hello,” which is how Mom gives a red card.
When we were in the home straight, the lead horse stepped out of the waves and started squeezing toward us into the deep sand, cutting off our path.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake!” Mom gasped. Then she looked at me and made the “boop-boop-boop” noise that meant that I should pay attention because this was about to get real.
And then, I kid you not, you guys… Mom ran BETWEEN THE HORSES.
Then she signaled for me to follow her.
“Really?!?! You really mean it?!?!?” I said, too stunned to be excited.
“C’mere, bub!” Mom said in the voice that meant she wasn’t messing around. So I cut right through the line of horses like the fastest car on the freeway, and Mom and I sprinted neck-in- neck past the lead horse’s nose. Once we’d won, Mom kept running just to show the horses who was the real Sea Biscuit in this movie.
Once we had finally put some sand between us and the horses, Mom pulled up to a walk. “God. Why is everything so hard?!” she gasped. “I think I might puke.”
Before long we reached a point where the cliffs fell right into the sea, and there was no more beach to run on. I stood back on the dry sand while Mom stood with her feet in the water looking to see what was around the corner of the rocks. “Dammit, we’ve gone 2.95 miles. If only we’d been here just half an hour earlier or later we could have gotten an even 3 miles.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well tides come in cycles,” Mom momsplained.
“I know that. So?”
“So pretty soon the tide will go back out, and if we wait for long enough our way won’t be blocked anymore.”
“How long do we have to wait till everything isn’t harder than it has to be anymore?” I asked.
“Not long now, buddy,” Mom said. “No matter what, a tide’s going to start going out on Tuesday.”
“And then everything will be easy again?” I asked.
“Not right away, but at least this agonizing uncertainty will be over. At least we’ll be moving in a different direction.”
“Are we still talking about the tide?” I asked.
“Yeah, maybe not,” Mom said. She often confuses what’s going on inside her mind with what’s going on outside her head and calls it metaphor.
“Come on,” I said. “Let’s make like the tide and run in another direction.”
As we got closer to the sand stairs and the beach got more crowded with dogs and people, I looked for the unattended people who might need a dog to adopt them. I ran through the crowds, swooping close to any person who might be lonely and slowing down to grin at them and make meaningful eye contact. Once they said, “Awwww,” I knew I had them, and that was when I gave them my butt to scratch.
I spotted a man alone on the sand and smiled at him. I couldn’t see his smile behind his mask, but I could see by the way his sunglasses moved that he loved me. We had a moment of understanding where I knew that he knew, and he knew that I knew that he knew… He crouched down and spread his front legs wide, and I sprinted to him and tackled him in a dog hug. I grinned back at Mom while he rubbed all over me, making sure to add an extra twinkle in my eye. “Is he a puppy?” my New Soulmate asked Mom.
“Nah, he’s six. He just really loves people.”
“I really love you!” I said, licking air kisses in the direction of his face.
“See, Mom,” I said when I’d kissed the man goodbye and Mom and I were walking back toward the car. “You can spend your run playing referee and worrying about everyone who’s not playing by your rules, or you can just look for your people. So long as you hang out in the right places, you’ll always find people who love you just the way you are.”
Oscar the Referee