It was always a secret favorite thing to do; to wake early and slip outside into the salty morning air, walk barefoot along the dewy grass across the lawn and up to the Water Oak. We had built a little ladder, Russell and I; just a few steps to get us off the ground high enough to reach our arms up and around the lowest hanging branch, then heave ourselves into the hidden basin, the hollowed out sacred place in the middle of the trunk, right where the branches began their journey, pulling apart and reaching up towards the sky; winding their arms high above our heads to shake their leaves at heaven.
I would nestle deep into that hollowed basin, sniffing the tree bark, inhaling it with the deepest breath I could take; it was the smell of the Water Oak that I craved everyday; it was the scent of sand and oyster shells, of fireworks and sugar cane; and it smelled the way my daddy’s voice sounded when we were swimming in the shallows and he was teaching me to reach my arms deep into the wave, stretch out with each long stroke to glide across the water like he did. It smelled exactly like that.
And it was that smell that I craved most after Long Beach was gone; when we made brief visits and I would walk over to the tree, lean into it; its hollowed branches no longer able to lift me up, support my weight; but it always offered up its scent, the comfort of its magic after everything was gone.
Long Beach was my home; my only home. It didn’t matter that I never really lived there, was only allowed to visit; didn’t get to spend entire summers the way Russell and Davis did.
What mattered was that whenever I leaned into the tree, or lifted a shell from the driveway, I came back to me; came back to my dad.