He stood there amongst his friends quietly. He looked a little darker and stared at us with a patience that spoke of a soul looking from the other side a different doorway than the one that we entered this world. From his black feet to his orange beak, he wasn’t like the other seagulls but somehow he also fit the description. We named him Horatio. We didn’t know it then but in Italian, the name means Timekeeper.
It was our fourth day in Los Angeles and we had already checked out of our Airbnb in the apartment in Playa Del Ray (Beach of the King) and we were “killing time” on the beach before we had to take the rental car back to the airport. We brought a picnic lunch from Trader Joe’s and we sat on a cement bench while a few seagulls gathered to see if they could coax a few tidbits from us.
One of the seagulls made a lot of noise, turning her head upside down and screeching. A few others joined in to see if we were easy marks. We weren’t. Kimmie laughed and said that the gull reminded her of one of her cats back home. Always begging, always hungry, always looking for the next thing.
There was a different gull in the handful that came by. He was a little darker, and even his feet were black, not yellow. His beak was orange, not yellow, and feathers brown, not white. He stayed quietly and when I tossed a piece of cabbage to the crowd he grabbed it and ate it while the loud gull spit it out and complained that it wasn’t the kind of food it was looking for.
His quiet behavior struck at us and he quickly became the favorite. We even named him: Horatio. Then we planted some of our chips in the sand nearby where he had to become bold to come grab them up close when none of the other gulls would risk it. That might have been because he started to chase them off when they got close to our bench on the beach.
It was a strange, lackadaisical approach to the day when each day before our trip had fulfilled some kind of purpose. The trip had been born out of the desire to travel and to bring my good friend to the town she grew up in when she hadn’t visited the place for almost eight years. I didn’t know that my musical travels would bring me back to the same place twice in just as many months. But this trip was different in its meaning. Horatio was the bookend to that, marking the passage of time and space and giving us this odd feeling of familiarity on a beach in the Los Angeles area that neither of us had been before this trip.
Kimmie and I took our time on that last day on the beach, feeling the spray and walking our bare feet into the cold water. Watching as the surfers wiped out on the high surf, the man collected the smooth rocks in the sand, and the balding man spoke to himself in a mirror propped against a palm tree facing away from the ocean.
I watched as Kim stepped into the surf and Horatio joined her as a bird shadow. The wind stirred the red curls of the wig she was wearing that day and I thought, “Fuck cancer.” This was life and we were alive. The trip had reminded us of the fire that we carried within ourselves and I had never seen her more alive than in the days after her diagnosis.
Two days previous she said to me that she had been worried about taking this trip. Taking time away from the clinic and the medications seemed like such a scary thing. She wasn’t sure that it was a break she could take. “I realized that being a patient was taking a break from life,” she told me after we had gone to Zuma beach and sculpted human sized creatures in the sand. “This is life,” Kimmie told me. “This is living.”
With the diagnosis that she had been given, many doctors had told Kim that she didn’t have long. With the help of her mom, she found a doctor that was also an advocate for her health and four months until a death sentence turned into a year and a half with tumors shrinking and calcifying. The very aspect of hope was part of what kept the fire of life burning. She could beat this thing.
Just three days after her last chemo treatment we were laughing in Los Angeles. There was an uncertainty in the air because she still had to schedule another scan to tell her if there were still persistent hitchhikers in her brain. It didn’t matter. With a newly shaved head, an arsenal of lovely wigs, and a skilled hand to draw on eyebrows she was ready to hit the town. Even without those things, she was still radiant. We were living.
So four days later we had visited City Walk in the midst of Chanukah celebrations, explored the Pacific Coast Highway, visited her dad’s old restaurant as well as the legacy he left there, and journeyed through parts of Hollywood and Beverly Hills to understand that there was no road that we had to leave untouched no matter how intimidating. It was good to sit on the beach with our toes in the sand, getting up occasionally to dance with our feet in the surf.
Horatio was there too, keeping time when we might have decided to let it slip past. There was some sort of internal trigger with our impromptu pet and as Kimmie stepped into the surf, he came with her and then decided to fly away to the north. He left us without a sound or a backwards glance; a dark gull figure mysteriously letting go of all attachment.
I think we both wanted to stay on the beach longer but the mist started to come in and it got cold. It was time to make our way to the airport and eventually back to Seattle where life was ready to have us keep on living. There was no use in trying to determine how much time we had left. Keeping time was for the birds. Obviously.