grains of sand under his feet

The world left behind, he sat by the campfire. Thick Pacific fog held the beach captive around him. His coworkers had called him a bit crazy for doing this trip. Who takes a vacation alone with a backpack and a tent out in the middle of nowhere? “Me” he cackled to himself, teasing the fire. They didn’t realize how much it took for him to be around people and to pretend to happy about it. How the shallow water-cooler conversations made him sadder each day he heard them. How if he heard a recap of some vapid reality show and the vitriol on display, one day he’d politely tell them they should take the conversation elsewhere, because their tone of voice and subject matter hurt him.

He’d known from an early age what a sensitive man he would become. Unspoken words affected him before speech. The venomous tests of adolescence taught him that nobody around him could be trusted not to hurt him. That some might even enjoy doing so. He scratched his white beard and started breaking out supplies for coffee. In another day or so, the echoes of that life would subside and he’d be able to hear the grains of sand under his feet. He’d be able to hear the song the wind played in evergreens and brush. He’d call back at seagulls. And each night as he’d put out the fire and head to the tent, wrap himself in the thick syrupy silence.