It didn’t feel like a vacation.
The entire week we’d been in Cabo, I tried to pretend—swimming in the hotel pool and lounging in the jacuzzi at night. I drank non-alcoholic Piña Coladas all day. At the all-inclusive hotel restaurant, I stuffed myself with squid, fish tacos, clam chowder, and macarons. I spent long mornings in bed and told myself that sleep is the only time machine in the world, though one-directional and oblivious to the past.
“We need to make the most of what we’ve got left,” my mother had said a month ago. She was pointing at the resorts on her computer: Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas, Costa Rica. “It’ll come out of my retirement, but it’s worth it.”
“Why don’t we just stay home?” I recommended. “The doctor is here.”
Ultimately, they had settled on Cabo because Grandpa wanted to “stand at the edge of the world.”
It was almost five o’clock, and the Arch of Cabo San Lucas looked like a dragon bending over to drink from the sea. During the day, the sun perched right above our heads, blasting us with equatorial heat. But now, the wind blew just enough. We reached the beach’s edge, and I removed my sandals, taking small steps over the broken shells.
Standing at the tip of the Baja Peninsula, I admired how the water reflected the flame-like clouds. The colors reminded me of when Grandpa and I went bird watching at Shoreline Park. There, the long-billed curlews dug into the sand, and the belted kingfishers sat in the trees. Grandpa had pointed out the geese. “You know Canada geese don’t actually migrate to Canada? They were named after John Canada.”
“Who’s John Canada?”
“The guy who discovered that these geese were different from other geese.”
“So they don’t go to Canada?”
“Nope, they go somewhere south, I think.”
“Maybe some of them.”
“I wonder what happens to them after they die.”
“I guess their spirit finds a new body.”
The violent waves collapsed on boulders as if they wanted to break the rocks and suck me in. I inched around for a steady place to stand. In the tide pools, starfish lounged, sea slugs crawled, and sea anemone swayed their little fingers. I picked a smaller boulder where a thin tide ran over my feet.
On the beach, Grandpa set up a tripod for his camera. “I’m capturing the sunset time-lapse to condense into two minutes.” He loved time-lapses, often saying how they let us truly witness time passing because people never notice on their own.
“Like a flipbook?” I asked.
One morning, several years ago, he took me to Golden Gate Park. As he pointed his camera at the fog rolling over the Golden Gate Bridge, he said, “It comes and goes, and then it’s gone. One second the fog floats over the city, and the next, it engulfs it. It’s unpredictable.”
“You can’t see the bridge,” I complained.
“Yes, but you know the bridge is there. You’ve seen it a hundred times without the fog, so you can imagine it.”
Grandpa was like that. He would bring me places and tell me things, and half the time, I wasn’t listening. I went along because he had a way of making me feel important. He had an interesting past that he liked to talk about. He’d say, “Your grandpa ran a chemical factory. He was the guy everyone looked up to.” When I was younger, he was so cool, but as I got older, I didn’t always understand why he was constantly teaching me things. It sometimes felt like being in Mr. Kinsley’s history class.
On the beach, the sun was still over the arch, and my mom and I waded into the water. We rolled up our shorts to keep them dry, but the waves splashed our clothes.
Grandpa positioned us to stand knee-deep while he maneuvered from rock to rock around us, clicking the shutter button on his phone. With his expertise, his photos looked as if we stood in front of a green screen. He’d already captured so many pictures of our trip as if he’d planned to have so much time to look at them. He even brought a camera when we went ziplining. A small one that dangled from his wrist.
We’d gone the day before in the outskirts of San José del Cabo. He couldn’t be talked out of it. As we climbed higher up the stairs to the platform, I started to sway, and every time I looked down, nausea took hold of me. Grandpa marched ahead. I watched as one of the guides connected him to the trolley.
“Remember to brake when you see the other platform,” the man said. “Don’t worry. My partner will catch you on the other side. Just make sure you don’t stop in the middle.”
I stood there, under the shade of the platform watching Grandpa. It was frightening to see him dangle on that line, his feet pointed forward as he grasped the handlebar. When he picked up speed, he grew smaller until he blended into the dry hills like a bird in flight.
At times like these, I thought about Jesus. I had recently been learning about him in Sunday School. My parents always believed in God, but only after Grandpa’s illness had they started going to church again. Maybe Christianity was right. Or Grandpa was right and we’d all be reincarnated. I guess we’ll know when we know.
Then it was my turn. The guide hooked me onto the trolley, repeated the same dialogue, and sent me soaring.
The wind blew and I started to twist. I kept anticipating the platform, but the line stretched longer. Instinctively, I applied pressure to the rope. I scrambled to turn the other way, but I only braked more. I thought for sure I’d get stuck in the middle. If I did, who would save me? But then, the other platform came into view, and I saw my Grandpa waiting, snapping pictures of me. His mouth was slightly open, his hair was gray and long, and his camera hid his crow’s feet.
The sun dropped behind the arch, peeking out from the hole. Darkness descended on the stone structure. As I admired the glow of the day’s end, Grandpa snapped a silhouette of me, the sound of his camera’s click crisp over the rushing waves. “Silhouettes are a type of disguise,” he once said. “You never know what the person has on their face: joy, fear, or loneliness—the blacked-out face hides them all.”
When we walked back to the red rental car, Grandpa strode in front while my mother and I trailed behind him. The distance between us grew with every step he took. I yelled, “Grandpa, wait! There’s no rush!”
But he didn’t hear me. The wind had caught my voice and lifted it away.
Justin Gu is a junior at Palo Alto High School. He has been writing for three years, and he finds his inspiration from family experiences. He was recognized by Scholastic Art and Writing for various pieces.