Dollar Store Sunglasses

I’m pretty good about keeping up with my things. Items I routinely use have homes where I replace them so they are waiting for me when I need them: keys on a hook, wallet by my sink, and phone on the nightstand. I try to put things in their place because there is nothing more frustrating than looking for something you’ve lost.

The one exception is sunglasses. No matter what I do, I can’t keep them. I either lose them or crush them. When I buy a pair, it is inevitable that they will soon be gone. Because of this, I buy my sunglasses in bulk at the Dollar Store or when I splurge, Walmart.

I learned this lesson the hard way. I was in college in the height of Top Gun’s popularity. Of course, everyone had to have Ray Ban Aviators – which, at the time, cost about as much as my car. But I sucked it up and bought a pair. I remember the Lexington Sunglass Hut where I bought them. I also remember exactly where I was when I sat on them – about 2 weeks later. Since then, I have never paid more than about $5 for a pair of sunglasses… until now.

Being old for some of us means reading glasses. And a beach trip means reading sunglasses, which I found on Ebay for $12. This price goes completely against my mantra and it’s hard to rebel against a long-held life philosophy, but I took the plunge. Since they are so valuable, I still packed a Dollar Store pair to wear into the ocean.

It ended up a good plan because the first wave that hit me stripped them off my face. The water was clear and I searched during the calm between waves, but I couldn’t find them. I did see them once just before I got pummeled by the biggest wave of the day. And then they were gone. Yes, my strategy paid off. I didn’t lose my reading sunglasses… but I still hate losing things.

You don’t get to 50 without losing some things. We’ve all lost money, time, pieces of sanity, and more important things like family members and friends. Whenever I sit in this sand, I remember the most precious thing I’ve lost: Kylie. I can point to the right and remember where she buried me in the sand, and to the left where we built a castle and discovered moats are hard to fill. Out in the water where she floated beside me, determined to keep up with her sisters.

I close my eyes and feel the ocean breeze, the heat of the sun. I hear the relentless pound of the surf and the call of the gulls. The rhythmic hum and weightlessness of the beach lulls me until I hear a familiar giggle.

“Daddy, don’t sleep. Come play with me.”

“Sure, Peanut. What do you want to do?”

“I want to build the highest sandcastle anyone’s ever built!”

“That’s a tall order for a girl so small. Think we can do it?”

“Sure we can. You dig.”

With a pink shovel barely the size of my hand I dig, filling pail after pail with soft, white sand. She pats and prods methodically, pouting a little when a stray wave foils her best plan. When we’ve gathered all the sand in sight, we sculpt turrets with windows, high towers, a drawbridge, and walls so thick no one could ever knock it down. Together we build a mighty fortress. I am working down in the moat while she is forming the highest tower, almost out of view.

“Should we have alligators or sharks for our moat?” I yell up.

“Um, alligators,” she decides.

“What are you building way up there?”

“This is the tower where the prettiest princess will live until the prince rescues her,” she calls down.

Her voice floats on air. It is a mist… a vapor… I almost can’t hear.

I stop my work in alarm. Lifting my head, I shield my eyes from the blinding sun and look toward where she was…


Something hits my leg. I’ve grown accustomed to the lapping waves – and even the stray wave that submerges my chair won’t rouse me. This is more substantial. I can tell. I fight curiosity in hopes of returning to my dream of her until I am poked again. Reluctantly opening my eyes, I find my sunglasses lying on the sand beside me. What I have lost has returned.

Yet… what I had…

As I leave the beach, I crush the sunglasses in my hand and deposit them in the rubbish bin. Dollar store sunglasses are not the lost thing I wish returned.

My New Backpack

When I got my first job, I went out and bought a briefcase. It was nice – brown leather with the combination clasps. The problem was that I had nothing to put into it. Let’s be honest, my entry-level position wasn’t very important. I was basically a cut-up and had no intention of transporting critical documents home for late evening work. So I loaded it with old files and a few magazines to make it look like I had important stuff going on. Every morning I would plop it on my desk, turn the combination, and pretend to get things out of it like everyone else. I forgot the combination at some point and just quit opening it. Nobody noticed…

Briefcases are another one of those things like rotary phones that are quickly becoming relics of a bygone era. Backpacks have become the modern-day briefcase. With the weight of laptops it makes much more sense to put it on your back rather than lug it around. I’m very picky about my backpacks. How do you rate them? Strong straps, durable construction, roomy compartments, easy access. All of those things are important.

But I have a new backpack.

I’ve been a big lummox all my life. My first Army ID listed me as 6’ 3”, 197 lbs. Over the years, I’ve lost on one side and gained on the other. When these petite little girls started coming in my life, I loved putting them on my shoulders like a backpack. Their favorite way to get up there was to have me swing them back and forth a few times, and then arc them up and over my head until they were seated on top. I did that once at a Braves game and the whole section gasped as if I were throwing her out onto the field. Calm down, people… this is how we do things in giant-world.

DSCN0328Sometimes I would carry them two at a time on my back. It was a trick to get them up there but they could sit comfortably front to back.

I wonder what the perspective is like from someone’s shoulders. Like many childhood things, there comes a time when you are too big to get on top of another so you must look for yourself and your own height is all you get. When my girls got too big, I started carrying the family supplies on my back like a pack mule.

But my new backpack.

My new backpack is neither functional nor roomy. In fact, it has one small zippered pouch barely big enough for my phone. Still, I love it. I love it because it reminds me of when my life was whole and my family intact. It is as whimsical as the unchallenged man I used to be… before my Kylie died.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I carried Kylie on my shoulders more than any of them because she couldn’t keep up with her sisters on her little legs. When we would go to the zoo, park, or anywhere that required a lot of walking, she would inevitably hold her hands in the air to be picked up and I could never resist that smile. So I carried her. I carried her around the house when her leg began to hurt and I carried her when her body was depleted from chemo. The night she died I carried her to the hearse so there would be no stretcher in my house. And now my shoulders are empty because I can’t carry her anymore.

But maybe there’s a way…

This is my new backpack.

It’s a penguin because Kylie loved penguins. I have carried it around the zoo, the beach, and now Disney World. I probably look like an idiot… in fact I’m sure I do. But I’ve never cared much about that. You see, for some peculiar reason, when I carry it I feel like I’ve got my little girl on my shoulders and she can see things she might have otherwise missed. I know it’s stupid, but lots of things in life are stupid and most things about death are, so I’m just going to carry my penguin around.

If you’re on vacation somewhere and see a big, dopey guy with a little penguin backpack, stop and say hi. I’m not as crazy as I seem, although that is debatable.

The way I see it from up here, I’m just sharing life with my baby the only way I know how.

Photo Oct 11, 5 43 29 PM