We walked along the beach, an old couple, hand in hand.
We headed in one direction, the boys went the other.
They ran past rented surreys, young lovers, and a zoo. The giraffes made them smile.
I noticed the small bits of life on the beach. Seaweed the center of the universe for a few hundred tiny creatures.
There were footprints of all shapes and sizes. A child’s bare foot, a runner’s sole, a seagull’s claw, lots of paw prints.
It was a glorious day. The sun sparkled on the sea.
We hiked up a bluff and passed a young girl in a wetsuit anxious to get in the water. Her mom followed several steps behind with a basket full of beach supplies for a lazy Sunday.
At the top, we were serenaded by the gentle ringing of a vending cart bell. Its owner strolling along; unhurried, enjoying his day.
A young, fit mother pushed a double-stroller up the hill (she was doing hill repeats).
At the bottom of the hill was a large group of casually dressed party-goers.
Several tables were set up. A small group of serious women served food from large foil containers. It smelled delicious. There were flowers lining the perimeter.
Rounding the corner, ASHLEE was written in flowers. Her yearbook photo rested against a nearby shrub.
She was 17. She took her own life.
A few feet beyond, another group of beach-goers. A couple of young families laughing in a semi-circle.
A little girl learning to walk, toddled from one person to another.
The pain was unbearable – I wanted to sob.
Ashlee, you could have been here on this day.
You could have gone the other direction, toward the zoo.
You could have taken in deep gulps of life, seen the giraffes.
You could have connected with one of us,
One of the people in the black jeans milling around your funeral at the beach,
One of the people leaving flowers and balloons and stuffed animals where you took your last breath,
One of the people who will spend the remainder of their lives wondering what could have been
if they had known.
This could have been a wedding.
This could be you walking hand in hand with the love of your life.
This little girl learning to walk in the sand could be one of your happy memories.
You could be laughing and smiling.
There was more than hope.
There is a choice.
There is help.
Life is long.
I didn’t know Ashlee, but I could have been her.