Ted paid for a ticket to San Francisco. He would be waiting at the airport, and Jerry was dying to find out what was actually going on. The ticket was waiting for him at the Albuquerque Sunport. It was a night flight and had a connection in Phoenix. Jerry would have preferred a straight flight, but it was Ted’s dime, and he called the shots. At least he could try to get some studying done on the flight.
The trip to Arizona was short. He tried to study, but it was his first time on an airplane, and absolutely everything was distracting. He was able to get a window seat. The force of the takeoff pushed him gently into his seat, as the lights of Albuquerque fell slowly away. It was exhilarating, the lights of the highways and towns below him compelling. In short, he did not get anything accomplished until the layover in Arizona.
The last leg of the flight was much less pleasant. The plane was stuffy and so crammed that Jerry could barely open a textbook without annoying the people on either side of him. Relax, he told himself. Studying now was hopeless. He leaned back into the confined seat and tried to sleep until the plane touched down.
Legs tired from a long, cramped flight, Jerry stumbled down the ramp. Fellow passengers, anxious to get out of the terminal, jostled and bumped him in a rush to alleviate their coach class claustrophobia. The same late connection also inconvenienced him, but he was not about to let surly business types spoil his first trip to the beach. Jerry was able to squeeze his way onto the escalators, glad to escape the glut of humanity.
Ted stood next to the baggage claim wearing an old, ripped concert shirt and faded jeans, easy to spot in the crowd of business travelers. Splotches of paint covered part of his face and shoulder-length hair. The broad smile that crossed his face was barely visible through his newly grown bushy beard. Whatever brought him to California; it wasn’t a corporate job.
“Ted!” Jerry waved as he stepped off the escalator.
“How was your first flight?”
“Are all airplane flights that bumpy?” Jerry asked. “Where’s the baggage claim?” He had not packed heavy, except his textbook-laden backpack. His borrowed duffle bag contained swimming trunks, a towel and a few changes of clothing.
“There it is.” Ted spotted the Vietnam-era luggage first. “Is that the same bag I took to summer camp?”
“I don’t know, probably.” Jerry reached between two grumpy business people. Much grumbling and a few rude comments later, he negotiated the bag free of the crowd.
“Need a hand?”
“Nah, I got it. Lead the way.” Jerry slung the duffle over his shoulder and followed his older brother through the shifting labyrinth of humanity to the exit. Outside was not much better, but at least the air was slightly less stuffy.
The sky was overcast and carried on it a damp breeze that smells of salt. Rows of artificial lights in the parking lot were almost superfluous. Ted led the way to the far end of the lot.
“That one’s mine, the green one under the light,” Ted claimed an old pickup truck that decayed under the harsh bombardment of the parking lot lamppost. From its general shape and excessive number of dents, Jerry guessed that it was a sixties model pickup, although he could not tell the make. Rusted metal was easily visible through the flaking, green paint. Pinpricks of light shone through its frame where rust had eaten all the way through. Jerry feared it might not take the weight of two grown men let alone his luggage.
“It’s a bit of a drive!” Ted climbed into the truck’s cabin. The vehicle produced a loud creaking sound. Ted turned the ignition, and the truck sputtered to life with a gasping roar, as a small cloud of smoke rose up directly behind the tailgate. ”You coming?”
“Do I have a choice?” Jerry gritted his teeth as he flung his bags into the bed next to the painting and garden tools.
“Don’t worry. She’ll get us there.” Ted negotiated the gearshift into first gear, and the truck jostled forward.
“Who’s worried? You have tools with you, right?” The complete failure of the shock absorbers as the truck bounced off a curb validated Ted’s prediction; it was going to be a bit of a drive. The truck merged slowly onto the busy San Francisco highway. Jerry struggled to adjust the frayed seatbelt to fit snuggly as the old vehicle labored to get up to speed. Faster, newer cars swarmed angrily around them, and all he could do was pray that one of them would not hit them. “So, how’s college?” Ted appeared to be completely oblivious to the large semi looming quickly from behind, blasting its horn.
“Okay, I guess.” Jerry tried to catch his breath. “I spend all my time studying.”
“How’s that going?”
“Not great.” Jerry looked out to the horizon searching for a glimpse of the Pacific. “Sometimes I wonder if I even belong in college.”
“Everyone worries about their future. There always seems to be something better to do, something better to try for.” A car passed by, the driver slowed enough to show Ted his middle finger. Ted returned the salute without a thought.
“So, I should just shut my yap and be happy with what I have?” Jerry abandoned the idea of tightening the seatbelt and focused his attention on forcing it into its rusted slot.
“Hell no! If you see something better, go for it. It’s called ambition, and it’s why we no longer live in trees.” Ted jiggled the gear shift until it thunked into the next gear with a loud engine roar. “Grandma didn’t approve of moping.”
“She wouldn’t have approved of your moving here either.”
“I guess not,” Ted said. “But we have to live our own lives, don’t we. Especially now, and, you know, we all have to be somewhere. Besides, there’s nothing back home, not anymore. It’s all gone now. Now is a good time to make a change.”
“There’s family.” Jerry offered. “We have a cousin and Uncle Ernesto and Aunt Vivian, people who care about us.”
“Yeah. I have an uncle whose greatest joy is making my life a living hell. He won’t stop until I go to work for him.” Ted said.
“He’s after me too. He’s just showing us he cares; he wants to make sure we’re taken care off. You know, for Dad’s sake.”
“It’s a big brother thing,” Ted smiled. “Doesn’t mean I want to live my life pounding nails in the hot sun.”
“Really? Looks like you’re still doing construction.” The condition of his clothing and the tools in the bed of the truck indicated that he was pursuing that line of work.
“Something like that. The house has been a lot of work.”
“Uncle Ernesto says you are not respecting Grandma’s memory.”
“Then he doesn’t have to come visit. You know as good as anybody, grandma was a bit nuts when it came to the water. I remember when you came home set on joining the Navy and becoming an ocean scientist.”
“You almost broke her heart with that stunt.”
“Okay. Okay. But I didn’t do it. She talked me into going to college instead.”
“At UNM, its almost as far from any body of water, that a person can get. Remember how we used to talk about the ocean when she wasn’t listening like it was a magical place.”
“I remember.” Jerry loved the sea. For as long as he could remember, he wanted to learn the secrets hidden beneath those mysterious waves. He never told his grandmother or even Ted, but he had even gone so far as to request admission packets for the Universities of San Diego, UCLA, and Southern Florida. He wanted to transfer after completing his sophomore year but could not bring himself to tell his grandmother.
She had given up everything to raise him and his brother. They could not afford much growing up, but he knew she loved them and everything she could to protect them. Jerry could not bring himself to defy her wishes, no matter how irrational her demands might be. Guilt was something at which their grandmother excelled. Even though she was dead, he still felt disrespectful for even considering it.
Perhaps it was because his grandmother had forbidden it to him, but the planet’s oceans and seas haunted Jerry’s imagination. There was another world beneath its placid facade, several times larger than the dry areas. It was the most unexplored region on Earth, and, like the early explorers of the Congo, he wanted to see its hidden wonders. It was an impractical, forbidden dream best left with the other follies of childhood, but it persisted.
“We respected her wishes as long as she lived. It’s just that it’s now our time to follow our dreams. She’d want us to be happy, right?”
“Maybe, but not in California,” Jerry said.
“Tell me about your place, what’s it look like?” Apart from being a beach house, he knew nothing at all. When Arturo got his new home, Jerry was soon sick of hearing about it, and it was just a double-wide trailer home. Ted had a beach house and never even sent a picture.
“You’ll see.” Ted’s perverse joy in dangling answers in front of him, like a cat with a ball on a string, was one of his most annoying character flaws. Jerry knew that deep down Ted hated keeping secrets and was bursting to tell him. All Jerry had to do was some gentle coaxing.
“How many rooms?”
“Four, kind of. I’m thinking of turning one into a library or something. One bath.”
“Big, small. Come on, give it up.”
“The place is just… well… it’s hard to describe. It is big–two stories, on some land by the ocean. You’ll see it when you get there. Keep in mind though; it needs work.”
Several wrong turns finally led them to the Golden Gate Bridge and then to Highway 1 heading north. The road wound along rough, hilly terrain that occasionally opened up, and would have allowed a glance of the ocean if the sky had not been overcast and too dark to see much of anything. Jerry strained to catch even a tiny glimpse of the water, but the gloom thwarted him. He rubbed his eyes in disappointment and looked forward onto the California highway. He consoled himself with the knowledge that he would be there for a week and would have plenty of opportunities to see the ocean.