Searching for a Light: An O.C. Bucket List Essay

Searching for A Light Op-Ed Bucket List O.C. Orange Coast Magazine

Illustration by Kara Pyle.

“Let’s get in the car and just go. We have to see them.” My mom began to object. “Will they be there? Will they even let us on the beach?”

It was April of 2020, a month into the stay-at-home order. My mom, who was temporarily staying with us, had expressed a vague interest in seeing the bioluminescent waves spotted along the coast. I hadn’t left the house in weeks other than to walk the dog and anxiously shop for groceries.

Perhaps it was because of that, or perhaps it was due to a deep-seated desire to give my mom—a woman who had worked too many hours on tired feet and spent much of her retirement caring for my late father—any moment of pleasure I could provide.

Regardless of the reason, taking her to see the neon waves of phytoplankton suddenly seemed like the most important thing in the world. With masks in hand and a single-minded determination on my part, we drove down to Laguna Beach.

The return of the bioluminescent bloom seemed cruelly timed. I had noted its previous appearances and each time put off seeing them in person. With the world closed off, it suddenly felt very “now or never.”

We reached the steps of Thalia Street Beach. As predicted, they were blocked off by caution tape. But we didn’t need to get on the sand. I knew if I could just see the shoreline— there! A faint glow in the distance. Or had I imagined it? My eyes wildly scanned the dark ocean below. Maybe it was just the moonlight reflecting on the water. Maybe I had just seen what I wanted to see.

“It’s OK,” my mom said, sensing my disappointment. “This is nice, too.” We listened to the crashing waves. I made a mental list of all the things I had put off over the years, vowing to cross them off at the earliest opportunity.

“It’s good to be out,” she said, gripping my hand. “And to smell the fresh sea air.”

I attempted to take a deep breath through my mask.

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