One 40 oz. Coors...
One 40 oz. Coors, Two Plastic Cups and 20 Salem Menthol Butts in the Sand
By Nadine Sehnert
This morning I had three goals to accomplish before I headed off to work. Exercise for one hour, organize my office for one hour and write for one hour. It was nice and cool so I decided to walk down to the river. I don’t walk as much as I did when we had our dogs and I don’t get to the river as much either. So off I went. I was enjoying the cool air, the sun peaking through the trees still covered in leaves. I walked by a young pear tree bursting with pears that were not picked, thinking they better pick them soon because you don’t let pears ripen on the tree, but of course, they should know that but how have the squirrels not picked the tree bare.
After a couple more blocks I headed down the 112-step staircase that leads to the Mississippi River. It’s a nice place to walk with a trail that takes you both through the trees and also along the edge of the water. I normally go left at the bottom of the staircase but today I went right. I decided to walk through the trees and save the river for the end of my walk. I was following someone with their dog (off leash) and tried to keep my judgments to myself as yes, at one time I too did let my dogs off leash, but once I realized how that might scare a non-dog person or someone with dogs on or off leash, I refrained. I am working every day to try and stop being so judgey.
I came to my favorite part of the walk. It’s along the river at a little curve and a small bay. I stop to admire the sun flickering like fire on the water. I move on and again walk the path through more trees to the large open beach area along the river.
And there I saw it. A pile of trash around a makeshift campfire. One 40 oz. Coors bottle thrown off into the brush, two plastic cups, some scattered napkins, an empty pack of Salem Menthols and a group of cigarette butts sticking straight up into the sand. There was a plastic bag stuck in a bush so I thought why not. I grabbed the plastic bag and started picking up the trash. How could someone think this was ok? What the hell? Really? What kind of pigs are you? Then as I grabbed one of the napkins to start picking up all the cigarette butts I noticed something. The pink lipstick on all the butts. All twenty of them - I counted.
What was the story being told here? I’m assuming it was just two people sitting at this fire because of the cups. But if there were two, why would one of them sit right there and smoke an entire pack? I know it wasn’t more than one person smoking because all the butts were put out in the same little circle to the right of the fire where I assumed they were sitting.
Was it two friends who came down to the river to get drunk off cheap beer and talk the night away as the sun went down? Or maybe it was a couple who came? Maybe they argued and then one of them left while the other stayed and smoked their entire pack in anger? In sorrow? In despair? What would drive someone to smoke an entire pack of cigarettes? I’m not a smoker. I’ve never even tried to smoke a cigarette.
But I know loneliness. I know anger. I know sadness. I know the feelings that might make someone sit there by the smoldering fire, smoldering themselves.
Were you smoking because you can’t smoke where you live? Or drink? Are you too young and this is where you go to party so your parents won’t find you? Or is this where you go to get away from parents who just don’t understand? Or who aren’t there?
I will never know your story but in all the stories I can imagine I still can’t imagine someone who hates this beautiful beach and river so much that you would leave your trash behind. How can you hate so much you want to damage the very place that you came to enjoy? Or maybe it’s not hate but indifference? You and the person who tagged a beautiful tree along the shore. Is it all about leaving your mark on the world? Litter-ally? This is how you want to tell your story? This is what you want me to know about you? That you don’t care? That you have so little regard for the world around you?
So, you know what. I do care. I picked up your napkins, your bottle, your plastic cups, your empty cigarette pack and your 20 butts. And then I went to the next extinguished fire on the beach and picked up partially burned pages of a porn magazine—another story I don’t want to imagine. And more empty bottles of beer. And bits of plastic and foil and the tag from a piece of clothing.
I did this so the next person who comes down to the river won’t be jostled out of their story for yours. So they will be able to enjoy the solitude, the sand, the smell of the river. I won’t have your story forced into theirs. You have no right to change my story because of your thoughtless inaction. So I erased your story. I erased all your stories. !
Nadine Sehnert is working on her first novel and occasionally blogs about life around her. You can learn more about her at her website: NadineSehnert.com.