The End of the Jetty

by Sarah D Kirchner on November 8, 2019


by Sarah McLaughlin ’23


When I step onto the final rock, I turn back to look at the coastline.

The harbor is lined with white boats, nestled like piano keys against the rocky shore. From there, the water extends—past the horizon, beyond anything I can see.

I’ve never reached the end before, but my little brother talked me into it this morning as I started the car and backed out of the driveway. Now he’s sitting there, to the left of my sneakers, stretching his legs out as he watches a seagull play with a crab shell, dragging it up out of the ocean and onto the rock.

“Careful,” I say. “Don’t fall in.”

He doesn’t raise his head. “At least we can say we made it all the way to the end.”

Since the first time I saw it, I’ve wondered if I’d ever walk the whole thing. It’s got to be only a mile at most, but as you get further out, the gaps get bigger, the rocks’ surfaces less smooth. Along the edge, there’s a brown border—dark, glistening, a reminder of the high tide, the encroachment of the sea that could swallow you whole if you take one wrong step. As I walked, I trained my eyes to my feet.

Now, I raise a hand to my forehead to shield my eyes from the sun. It bends, I realize—the whole jetty. It puts me at the perfect angle to see the start from the end, uninterrupted by the in- between.

And it doesn’t look quite as long anymore. And the rocks are just as wide here—now the first ones look narrow.

“Bet I could swim back,” he says.

I glance down at him. He’s looking at the shore, now, too. “No way.”

“I think I could make it to that little fishing boat, at least,” he replies, pointing. “And then I’d call for help.”

“I’d like to see you try.”

“I’m serious. I could do it.” Then he looks at me over his shoulder. “You ready to go?” 

“Almost,” I reply. “Give me a minute.”

There’s a reason people don’t swim out here, out to this point—it would be meaningless. It’s a place that holds no significance outside of the fact that it’s the end of something. It’s the last note in a song. The final step in a running race. The period at the end of a sentence. It’s having tunnel vision as you step from rock to precarious rock, so focused on the destination that you don’t know what to do when you reach it except turn around and look back.

The shore doesn’t look as far away as I thought it would. It doesn’t look as far away as this rock did, shrouded in mist, separated from where I stood by an empty, dark expanse.

Averting my gaze, I tap my brother on the shoulder with the tip of my shoe. “Let’s walk back.”

Photo of the ocean with a jetty