I slid my feet out of my sandals and dug my toes into the sand. The warmth felt nice, as did the sun on my back and the slight breeze on my face. I gazed down the beach and decided to walk at least to where the dunes began, perhaps a mile away. I needed to stretch my body before the five-hour drive, work out the kinks left over from sleeping poorly the night before, decompress mentally before leaving my 17-year-old for her week in The City. I’d almost cried saying goodbye.

Instead, I’d driven the several blocks from our friends’ house to Ocean Beach, seeking the combination of solitude and reassurance only the ocean offers. Some physical exertion couldn’t hurt either.

I’d left Chelsea with a laminated street map that showed the bus routes. Her dad had quizzed her on various SF neighborhoods and which streets connected them. We ran through a series of “What if?” scenarios and made sure phone numbers were shared all around. She’d be on her own during the day and with family and friends at night. The safety net seemed to be in place, her ability to navigate the City as assured as could be expected.

The Pacific tumbled violently where deep met shallow. Waves surged up thick and solid, careening into longshore currents, barreling over like collapsing giants suddenly out of breath. The ocean’s brutality contrasted with the tranquility of the people dog-walking, jogging, tai chi-ing, kite-flying on the beach. I wandered between laughing children and ball-chasing mutts, feeling my hamstrings stretch with each step. I wondered if Chelsea had caught the bus yet, hoped she wouldn’t spend all her money in this initial shopping foray, hoped further that she would remain unmolested by the thousands of perverse and dangerous men roaming the streets of San Francisco – at least in my imagination.

I reached my designated turnaround point, planted my feet wide in the sand, marveled again at the warmth and perfect weather of the day, then fell over from the waist in an imitation of the waves in front of me. But instead of rolling forward, I simply hung, letting my back lengthen increment by painful increment until impending dizziness demanded I stand up.

As I walked back, I saw two surfers in the distance, one with a yellow gun, the other with a green. Serious boards for serious surf. I walked faster, wanting to watch how they paddled out, curious to see what they would make of this tulmultuous ocean. For twenty minutes, they struggled, flung backwards and sucked sideways, but managing more progress than setback until they’d made it past the breakers. By this time, they were nothing more than specks in the great blue expanse.

I climbed the hill toward the Cliff House, worried about them, despite my impression that they knew what they were doing. What if a shark attacked or one of them cramped up or had a stroke or a huge set came in and broke one of the boards or leashes and washed the other away? Who would notice? Who would care? Who besides me even realized they were out there? I leaned on the sun-warmed cement railing waiting. I’d been watching them for 45 minutes, losing them now, then finding them again. I wanted to see them catch a wave, but nothing came. Finally, I released them from my view. I trudged back to the car, settled in, started up and began the long drive home.