The girl with the freckles sat towards the back of the beach where the sea grapes and silver palms grew. She was wearing cutoff denim shorts and the sand felt cold on the back of her upper thighs. She stretched a baggy sweatshirt over her knees and rocked back and forth as she looked out at the morning sunrise.
The beach was desolate except for some solitary joggers and one old man combing the shoreline. This man intrigued her. He carried a walking stick and had a small bucket affixed to a nylon sling. Occasionally he would reach into the shallow water as the waves rolled back to snatch something from under the surface. After inspection, he would either toss the item back to sea or gently place it in his bucket. Sometimes he would pinch his prize between two fingers and hold it up to the rising sun.
The girl with the freckles stood up and wiped the sand off the back of her legs and used the sleeves of the sweatshirt to wipe snot and tears away from her face. She could feel the streaks of eyeliner mixed with tears caked on her cheeks. She let out a sigh and then sucked in a deep breath of salty air. Had it really been six months already, she thought.
The first time it was twenty-eight days. The second time was ninety. This time her parents had found her a six-month program. She had just “graduated” yesterday and she wasn’t sure if it was going to stick. It definitely hadn’t stuck the first two times. This uncertainty was the source of her tears. How many times would she fall off again? She felt broken.
The girl with the freckles composed herself the best she could and walked towards the breaking waves and the curious old man. He looked in her direction as she closed the distance.
“Hello,” she said. “What are you looking for?”
“Metaphorically or literally?” he responded.
The girl smiled out of the corer of her mouth. It was the first time she’d smiled in months. “Both, I guess.”
She noticed the man was wearing linen pants rolled up above the knee and a three-buttoned golf shirt that matched the pants. He had puffs of gray hair sticking out of his ears that looked like cotton balls. He reached into his bucket and pulled out a small, translucent piece of something green. He handed it to the girl and she held it up to the sunlight, twisting from side to side and rubbing it between her finger and thumb.
“Is this glass?” she asked
“It’s sea glass,” the old man said.
He turned to her and tilted the bucket in her direction. The girl with the freckles took a peek. Inside the bucket she saw small flat discs of weathered shards of glass. Some were frosted white, some clear and others green or brown.
“Grab some,” the old man said.
She reached into the bucket and pulled out a small handful of the smooth shapes and they sparkled in the sunlight.
“It’s pretty,” she said. “What do you do with it?”
“I collect some. I give some away. Sometimes I make jewelry.”
“Why do you collect it?”
The old man looked at the girl standing in front of him. She looked to be even younger than his granddaughter. He noticed her runny eyeliner. “Can I ask you a question first, dear?”
“Have you been crying?
She covered her face with the sleeves of her hoodie, which dangled from her wrists like elephant trunks. “Is it that obvious?”
“May I ask why you’re so sad this morning? The sunrise is splendid and the sky is clear. What has you so upset so early on such a beautiful day?”
The girl placed the handful of sea glass back into the man’s bucket. “I’m just feeling a bit broken I guess.”
“Sometimes you need to be broken first to reach your full potential,” the old man said.
The girl smirked. “Is that some sort or Eastern thing? I’ve been hearing a lot about virtue theory and moral philosophy lately.”
“Less Socrates and more like the caterpillar and the butterfly,” the old man said. “Let me show you.”
The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a frosted piece of blue sea glass the size of a quarter. “Look at this piece,” he said, handing it to her. “That was part of a bottle from before the 1950’s,” he said.
“How can you tell?”
“That color blue only comes from Milk of Magnesia bottles that ceased production in 1950,” the old man said. “That piece of glass is probably older than I am. It could even date back to 1906.”
The girl with the freckles held the sea glass up to the sun. It was simultaneously smooth and rough. She rubbed it between her fingers like she had done with the other piece.
“When that bottle was manufactured it was forced into a utility it didn’t choose. That bottle didn’t ask to be filled with a liquid laxative. When that bottle was empty somebody found it useless and threw it away. Over time, somehow, that bottle was shattered, separated from its counterparts and cast off to sea,” he said.
“Broken,” the girl with the freckles said.
“Exactly. But when that bottle was unwanted, shattered and abandoned it found itself at the bottom of the sea where transformation took place through the longshore drift process. But it’s not an easy, quick transformation, no. After being shattered and discarded to the depths of the ocean, that piece of glass was pummeled by waves and thrashed across the bottom of the ocean. For decades that solitary piece of glass was worn down and weathered by erosion, smoothed by sand and dragged by the tides. Over time its sharp edges became dull. It became soft and smooth. When it was part of the original bottle it had been forced to conform, obligated to part of something it never asked to be a part of. But now, after being shattered, broken and beat down, the sea glass finds itself retuning to land reshaped and reborn as something new and unique. Like snowflakes, no two pieces of sea glass are the same. And like the butterfly, it emerges as a more beautiful form of its original self,” the old man explained.
The girl with the freckles stared more intently at the soft, shiny and smooth item in her hand. “It really is extraordinary when you think about it that way,” she said.
“Just remember,” the old man said. “No matter how broken or shattered you are, you can always dull your edges, smooth things out and change yourself into something special, beautiful and unique. It just takes patience and time.”
The girl handed the old man the blue piece of sea glass. “I really think I needed to meet you today,” she said.
The old man smiled and reached back into his pocket and pulled out a silver necklace with a blue, glass pendant. “I want you to have this,” he said. “I made this pendant from another piece of sea glass. It belonged to my daughter.”
The girl hesitated. “I don’t think I can accept that,” she said.
The old man persisted. “My daughter was broken too,” he said. “But she never got to emerge from the sea. She never completed her path from shattered and broken to beautiful and new. I want you to have this because I want for you to finish your journey. I want you to continue down the right path and I think this pendant might help you on that journey. May I put it on you?”
This girl with the freckles turned around and lifted her hair as the old man clasped the pendant around her neck. She held the pendant in her fist right next to her heart. “Thank you,” she said. “I will certainly cherish this.”
“It’s ok to be broken,” the man said. “You just need to endure the rough tides and know when you come out on the other end, you’ll be the most perfect form of yourself. No sharp edges. No more being broken.”
The two exchanged goodbyes and the girl with the freckles returned to her spot by the sea grapes and silver palms as the old man continued down the beach, occasionally reaching below the surface of the breaking waves, looking for his weathered and worn pieces of unique treasure.