She sells seashells by the seashore.
“You don’t respect my career,” she told me.
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t respect her career, I hadn’t even thought of it as a career, or as something that could be respected, and even the implication that it was due some respect or that someone could see it as something to be respected confused me, and angered me for some reason. Of course I didn’t respect her career. But the accusation in her voice, the bluntness of her phrasing, made me feel defensive, as if admitting to not respecting her career was some gateway to respecting it.
“I, uh, I…”
“See,” she said. “You don’t.”
“Of course I don’t!”, I wanted to yell. “You sell seashells by the fucking seashore. Who sells seashells by the seashore!?” But she sells seashells by the seashore. She sees selling seashores by the seashore as inherently legitimate, or at least not as self-evidently dismissable.
“It’s not a matter of respect…” I said.
“Oh, it isn’t?” she said.
It was, of course, a matter of respect. That was just the part of the matter I didn’t want to discuss. So I said it wasn’t what it was. I didn’t want that to be what it was. The line of questioning was scaring and confusing me, and I resented her for it, even moreso if she was right.
“No, I mean, I just don’t, I dunno, I think I just don’t understand it.”
And I realized I didn’t, that was the truth, but in a way it wasn’t the truth—it was an excuse, a deflection. Because while I didn’t understand her career, it wasn’t the not understanding that I was feeling, it was the disrespect.
And why didn’t I respect it? The reason I thought so was because there are so many seashells at the seashore and it’s ripoff to buy them right there. It’s almost duping people, telling them there’s nothing in the ocean, by implying that seashells are a thing you have to buy. And I saw people falling for it. I saw them talking about seashells, as this “Seashells” product, as if only her Seashells were legitimate seashells, and soon her brand, her version of experience, would become the “Seashell” of the conversation, and my seashells, the seashells that felt more real, would be this quaint and silly thing, and I would feel crazy and alienated.
The truth is, I didn’t really give a shit about seashells, though. I could get my paranoid imagination going around them, but it was never about the shells. It was about modes of experiencing the world, and I was paranoid that hers would become more popular than mine.
And maybe that was cover for worse—that I just wanted to be better than her, that I didn’t want to give her confidence and power over me, that I wanted those things for myself.
“Yeah, you definitely don’t understand it,” she said, and it was an insult, but the kind of insult that lets you off the hook. She had made an accusation, but it was an accusation that was based on my lie about myself, a lie for cover that turned out to be the truth.
We walked for awhile down by the seashore. I liked to do that with her, but not so much when she was selling seashells.
“What did you think of me when we first met?” she asked me.
“What, when you were selling seashells down by the seashore?”
“I still do, you know. It’s my career.”
“I know,” I said, “I’m just saying you were at the moment. It’s something I remember.”
I do remember the moment. I was walking with another girl, one who I was in love with, but I had felt her disconnecting from me lately. We were walking in a crowd, and one of the other people asked her a question, and she answered them so easily and naturally, more relaxed and down-to-earth than she had ever seen with me, and I wondered if I had never even known her, and I wanted so much to still feel the same way with her, but that her, the one that seemed to be simpler and freer than the self she had with me.
And we walked off the boardwalk, and here was this other girl selling seashells down by the seashore.
There was something in her eyes that I read way too much into. Her eyes and the nose, her eyes with the nose between them. I felt that I knew her. There was a nugget of something that, with my imagination, I could make into an imagined person, and onto this imagination I projected so much love, so much depth, so much humor, intelligence, energy, and most of all that, in the imagining of this person, I could imagine her and I connecting and knowing each other and knowing who we were so much more than I could with this girl I was walking with, the one I currently loved.
I bought a seashell. I bought one for the girl with me.
Anyway, yeah, I remembered how I felt.
“So what is it you like about selling seashells down by the seashore?” I asked
“I never said I liked it,” she said.
We kept walking
“But thanks for asking. I think seashells are pretty. People associate them with the beach. People say they like doing stuff like picking out seashells themselves,. but really, they want to have it without doing all that boring stuff themselves. And most of the seashells are broken anyway. It’s hard to find good ones. So I sell people the ocean they want, the ocean they could have, instead of the ugly “real” ocean. It’s better.”
“Whatever,” I said. We were disconnecting.
“Plus,” she said, “I like digging for the shells myself. There’s nothing better.”
[to be continued]