I met Sid at my local cove late the other afternoon. It was hot, humid and windy. My intention was to kayak if the wind died sufficiently, or if not, hang out. None of the regulars were there and the beach was almost deserted.
At the cove’s small apex were two middle-aged women sitting in beach chairs with an umbrella, cooler and munchies. They were lost in conversation and while nodding at me when I sat near, quickly turned back to each other. I strolled to the far end of the cove.
Near one outcrop sat two middle-aged men in their own beach chairs smoking cigars. That was unusual. Going to the beach to smoke cigars? But they smiled at me and I smiled back and noticed they too were lost in conversation.
The wind did not subside much, but I dragged my kayak to the water’s edge anyway and took off north. Paddling north meant struggling into the wind and waves, but it felt good. Paddling hard is like jogging hard; after awhile, the pheromones kick in. I needed that. The last six months had been constant stress. On the return trip, the wind and waves were at my back and I constantly had to keep the kayak from skidding sideways and flipping. It was a thrill. I sang. I smiled. It was a fine afternoon.
Arriving at the beach, I dragged my kayak near the women and settled into that exquisite after-exertion pleasure.
The two men ambled back to the women. Now I understood; two couples. My beach chair felt too close and I moved it several feet away to give them space. The nearest man noticed and said, “hey, don’t bother. We’re fine.” He was ruggedly handsome and well-built, solid, muscular, darkish skin, maybe Italian, fine, thick hair: the epitome of a 60ish guy in great condition.
We started chatting. His name is Sid. He had been a petroleum engineer with Shell Oil until it no longer was an adventure, so he quit to form his own high-tech flooring company. But he does not care about that any longer. Nor living in his estate-sized house in Rancho Cucamonga, nor his fancy car. None of it.
About a year prior, he had contracted an auto-immune condition. It is extremely rare and genetic. It caused the first layer of his skin to fight the second layer. They literally were trying to kill each other. The result was boil-like bulges all over his body. Over one three-day period, he gained 40 pounds of water weight. The skin around his eyes became so swollen he could barely see.
There were hundreds of new boils each day, and each one had to be individually lanced. It took hours. After a time in the hospital, the doctors told him there were no known cures except to keep lancing the boils and disinfecting the wounds. He went home to a bedroom specially prepared so his sloughing skin could be appropriately cleaned. His wife bathed him, lanced his boils, cleaned his wounds, changed his sheets, and nursed him.
Sid was sure he would die. Sid was sure he did die. It was three months ago and his condition was deteriorating, boils everywhere, excruciating pain and episodes of incoherence. He saw strange flashes. His body was failing and he knew it.
Then Sid decided he would not just friggin’ die, he would beat it.
Today there are horizontal, discolored, ridges that cross each of his fingers and toenails about halfway up. I Googled it. Such ridges are common to humans whose bodies have been greatly stressed. They are a signature of body nutrients being shunted to vital parts of a body chemically scratching for survival.
He was at my cove on a workday in late afternoon with his wife, his best friend, and his best friend’s wife. It was a celebration. He had been in remission for a month and his skin looked only damaged, not destroyed. He and his best friend loved smoking cigars and they knew it irritated others, so they smoked around the corner. Later, the two couples were going to dinner at a local restaurant they loved.
I was hot enough I wanted to dive in and asked Sid if he wanted to walk to the end of the beach where it is best. While we were walking, he told me how much he loved his wife and how he knew, now, the meaning of life was to live it fully with loved ones. He choked up, started to cry, but was embarrassed in front of a stranger. I said dive in with me, and he did. We swam a bit, the day late and the water cool. He regained his calm and we strolled back to our chairs.
I left soon enough, but first asked him, “Why did you come to this cove and why Laguna?”
Sid answered, “This is paradise.”
Michael Ray grew up in Corona del Mar and now lives in Laguna Beach. He makes a living as a real estate entrepreneur and is involved in many non-profits.