The Isles of Shoals
I meet Jesus on the day I get home from the war. I’m on the beach, but I don’t know how I got here. My mind is as dark as the night.
I walk, but only back and forth. New Hampshire has a tiny coast-line. A lot of it is rock, sent down from Maine when God made the Earth, to keep us on our toes down here. I walk where the sand is wet and hard and cold. It holds my toes, and my toes hold it. In the desert, where I fought, the sand was inhospitable.
The darkness is a gift. I would tell my little baby girl when she woke up in the middle of the night, “Dodie, there’s nothing to be afraid of.” I’ve always loved the dark. In the dark, you light up in-side. Things become clearer the darker it is.
Out here, on the beach, I’m alone. I always have been. Or as long as I can remember. As long as since my mother died.
I’d come here in the middle of the night to find myself and to get away from others. The beach is a place of memories. When you come here, you take your life with you. When you go other places, like the city or the desert, you leave your life behind.
I remember everything.
Except how I got here.
I spend the whole night on the beach. But when the sun’s faint light begins to bend around the Earth, I see him.
Out there, ten miles out in the ocean, are the Isles of Shoals. There are nine of them. On the clearest day you can see five at most. They sit like flat gray stones on the skin of the water. If it weren’t for them, your eyes would disappear into the horizon.
I’ve never been to the Shoals. I’m not a sailor. I’m a soldier. I’ve been content to stand here looking out at them. When there’s haze or fog, or night has set in, I imagine them. They’re always there for me. They make the ocean safe.
They sit off to the east, of course. New Englanders are always looking east. To where we came from. To where we go to fight for freedom. From this coast, the only coast I know, the sun always rises behind the Shoals. Its first light brings them up out of the dark-ness of the ocean. One by one they begin to glow.
There, coming toward me, out of the light, is a man. He seems to step on the islands one by one, the way I would cross the slippery stones of the Swift River by the Kancamagus Highway up north to try to reach my father.
Behind the man a faint curtain of light rises to the sky out of the ocean. He wears the light like a robe, though I see he’s dressed like me. Jeans and a T-shirt, no shoes. And that he’s older than I am, a lot older, maybe midthirties.
He walks right toward me. He walks right into my eyes.
In the war, we were taught to be suspicious of strangers. That’s what they called it: suspicious. What they meant was fearful: we were taught to be afraid of strangers.
But I’m not afraid of this man. I’m home now. I still don’t know how I got here. But I feel that nothing, and no one, can hurt me.
Still, I want to be alone. I’m thinking, How come on an empty beach if one person puts his chair down and another person arrives, he puts his chair down right near the first person?
He comes right up to me.
“I know you want to be alone, Warren,” he says.
“Do I know you?” I ask.
“You do now,” he says.
“Well, you don’t know me,” I say. “Anyone who knows me knows I don’t call myself Warren. Nobody calls me Warren.”
“I do,” he says.
“Fine,” I say. “Call me Warren. Who are you?”
“Will you believe me if I tell you?”
“How do I know?”
He laughs. “That’s just the right answer.”
I don’t know what he means by that. But I’m flattered.
And then I know.
“My name is Raphael,” he says.