“Hey, Gina! Listen to this—it’s a review of where we’re supposed to be staying tonight.”
Sea Shell Motel
We were on a road trip down the California Coast and couldn’t find a place in Mendocino that we really dug so thought we’d keep driving. It ended up getting dark and we were low on gas and the gas station in town was already closed. The Point Arena Lighthouse Inn was booked, there were NO restaurants open and we were starving! Basically we had no choice but to stay at the Seashell Inn. We dropped our stuff off in the room to get some chips (for dinner!) from the liquor store. We came back to the room to find our TV had been turned on!! Someone had gone into our dirty, creepy room! We had no cell phone reception and the phone in the room didn’t work! It was straight out of a horror movie so we took a chance and bailed in hopes we could get to a gas station before we ran out of gas. Better to sleep on the side of the road than the Seashell Inn and be murdered in our sleep!
The little table in the Mendocino café shook as Reggie tapped away at his laptop. Thank God for Wifi! We were still a ways from Point Arena, but we were able to cancel our reservation at the Sea Shell Inn—they hadn’t even taken our credit card number, so the cancellation was just a courtesy on our part. Better arrangements had already been made, and now, we only needed to know how to get the key to open the little cottage at the lighthouse where we’d be spending the night. We wanted something a little special—after all, we were celebrating our 28th wedding anniversary.
Just before leaving the café, Reggie read an on-line review of our romantic little cottage:
“Definitely for us but not for everyone!”
Point Arena Lighthouse
This is a great place to stay if you are looking for a place which is very clean, very well equipped, comfortable, homey…and basic. We loved it. Wood burning stove was much appreciated in the early morning at the tip of Point Arena which is the closest point to Hawaii in the contiguous USA! This is NOT the place for those loving luxury and hair dryers and a restaurant on-site. But you can’t beat the harbor sea lions and the sound of the surf on three sides! Cell phone service is “iffy” but internet wireless is present. No phones in units. We stayed three nights but would come back for at least a week. We would bring our own books but the unit comes equipped with books, magazines, games, puzzles and good dish tv.
• Liked — The isolation while still providing wireless and dish tv
• Disliked — A queen bed in a small room…
“We’re not ‘everyone,’ so it sounds perfect,” I chirped, more to assure myself than Reggie.
Highway 101 continued to be breathlessly stunning, making your eyes ricochet from flower-draped cliffs to the sea stacks jutting out of the sparkling, achingly-blue ocean into which you could plummet at any moment. Indeed, the impending doom of a potential head-on collision lurking behind every blind curve makes the beauty seem that much more eternal.
The town of Point Arena wasn’t much to look at, although it was still charming in a West Coast, salt-bitten kind of way. As the GPS guided us into the hair-pin turn leading to the lighthouse, we passed the Sea Shell Inn. The curtains hung haphazardly, revealing gaping spaces beyond, too dark and dreary to be haunted, and the red neon vacancy sign skittered out a Morse code warning to stay away. I momentarily shuddered at the thought of almost staying there, but in all honesty, I was also a little apprehensive about where this road was taking us.
This was one long road—one mile paved through cow-studded golden pastures tightly lined with gnarled stands of eerily slanted cypress trees. A sharp bend to the right brought us to a dirt road for yet another mile of marine terrace, which narrowed down to a peninsula with the mainland across the choppy waves to the right and the boundless ocean on the left. The lighthouse beckoned to us with a distant wink. Since it was after hours, the little white gatehouse was empty, and in the waning light, it was almost possible to imagine that there was someone inside. We had been instructed to open the latch on the gate, which appeared to be locked but wasn’t. Ignoring the little hairs bristling on the back of my neck, I jumped out of the car and pushed open the wide, heavy gate on its reluctant, floppy rubber wheels, and closed it behind us after Reggie drove through.
Beyond the gate, the peninsula was even narrower and more wind-swept. The lighthouse dominated the point, holding court over the inconsequential goings on of lesser beings and objects below. We found the Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage and extracted the envelope from the mailbox. There was a small car parked in the driveway, but there was nobody around. The other three cottages stood forlornly empty as well. The sight of that lone car waiting for no one slightly unnerved me. In the shadow of the lighthouse, we parked the car at the edge of our huge front “lawn,” and schlepped our bags across it towards our tin cottage. As we staggered across the scrubby lunar landscape of grey dirt punctuated by craggy plants, the cold wind whipped our hair and clothes into a dusty frenzy.
The glass door opened easily. The room was small, but warm and comfortable—a welcoming refuge from the cold, stinging wind. It was easy to ignore the slightly dank smell that permeated the room. I half-heartedly made some nice comments about the décor while Reggie turned on the gas fireplace. We sat down in our puffy armchairs facing the door. I pulled out my cell phone to check my messages, but to my dismay, we did not have cell phone service, just as indicated by the on-line review. Jeezum Crow! This place was really isolated! Hmmm, no phone service—no way to dial 911? Now I’m being ridiculous! When was the last time I had to dial 911 anyway?
Always finding a way to enhance the moment, Reggie pulled the door shade up, revealing the entire lighthouse. Since we were there to see and experience the lighthouse, I couldn’t very well object, but at that moment, I felt a vulnerability which would color the rest of our stay. We sat there contemplating the lighthouse while the gloom seemed to settle in like an uninvited guest. I wasn’t hungry, but when Reggie suggested we go into town for supper, I quickly agreed. I was able to open and close the gate a little faster than the first time, and I tried not to look at the gatehouse where I was sure someone was lurking.
The restaurant we had chosen on the waterfront was closed, so we went to the little pizza place which shared the same building. There was a large, noisy family of obese blond people in the barn-like, brightly-lit dining room and some mellow gay guys in the small, low-ceilinged cozy bar area. I opted for a little table by the picture window near the bar. The waiter was friendly and chatty, and when he found out where we were staying, he said, “Great place, but it’s not for everyone.” I laughed not because it was funny, but because it was so true. The pizza was good, or let’s say good enough, and all too soon, it was time to leave. I didn’t really want to go back, but you can’t say that when all your stuff is in the room, when you’ve already paid an arm and a leg to stay there, when it’s late and there really aren’t any other options, when you’re already tired and there’s no reason not to, when you don’t want your husband to know what a wimp you really are.
So we went back. Again, I opened and closed the gate, again I tried not to look into the gate house, and again, I ignored that sinking feeling of having a date with destiny. Maybe we could have just stayed at the pizza place, eaten pizza after pizza, stayed until 10 the next morning, and returned to the lighthouse after the place became populated once again. But we didn’t.
Back in our little tin cottage, we sat once again in the dark in our puffy armchairs, this time with wine, listening to the tormented wind and looking at the illuminated lighthouse through the door. That door gave me the creeps. I kept imagining that some big, hulking, lobotomized guy with an axe and a really bad attitude was going to come crashing through the glass. I am greatly comforted, though, by reminding myself that reality is never as bad as our fears are, and focused instead on the solidity of the lighthouse.
All of a sudden, the light went out, plunging us and the lighthouse into darkness. My heart stopped, but I did continue to sip my wine. So did Reggie. I don’t want to say that he was scared, too, but truth be told, how could he not be? He’d never admit it, even if he were. Good thing, too—you can’t have two people feeding each other’s fears. In fact, just one would be one too many, so I kept my fear to myself. My eyes were adjusting to the moonlight and I thought I could perceive some movement outside, but again, I ignored it, and continued to sip my wine. So did Reggie. The wind continued to howl, but the wine worked its magic and managed to anesthetize my ominous feelings of dread. I was falling asleep. Time to call it a night.
The bed was just right and the flannel sheets were toasty. Happy anniversary! I’d do it all over again. We snuggled up and fell into a deep sleep.
A series of photographic images, more visceral than visual, flash through my mind. I’m sleeping the sleep of the dead, and the hulking, lobotomized, crazy guy smashes his way through the glass door. Terror knots up in my throat. I’m so anesthetized that I can’t move, can’t open my eyes, can’t react, can’t scream, but my mind is screaming. I’m so trapped. I’m so scared. There’s nothing I can do but wait my turn with paralyzed patience. My head is smashed, bashed, split. I can feel it. Thud, splat, squish, crunch. It doesn’t exactly hurt, but it’s a feeling like no other. This is what irreversibility is all about–there’s no going back, even if you knew the way. It feels like a giant switch has been flipped and I’ve been shot to the stars. I’m so alone. Even though I can’t see or hear, I am aware of the cold moon, the relentless wind, the dark, all-seeing lighthouse. My mournful, empty soul doesn’t know what to do. It’s just as well that time doesn’t exist anymore because it’s just too late for anything.
I open my eyes. It’s morning. A dense fog is pushing against the windows and the glass door. The flannel sheets are still toasty and my dear, sweet Reggie is next to me, blinking at the light. He looks surprised, just like me, that we’re still here. “What a horrible nightmare I had!” I tell him. “I did, too,” he says. We compare notes and oddly enough, we’d had the same dream. That’s a first! It’s so comforting to look around the room and see that everything is just as we’d left it the night before. The shoes, the socks, the wine bottle, the glasses. The nightmare, now a distant memory, is fading fast. “Look at this great fog! It’s so magical! Let’s take a walk before the tourists start arriving.” We dress in two minutes and walk through the cloud-like fog. I feel so lighthearted, glad to be with the love of my life, happy to be alive. My feet barely touch the ground. There’s no wind, it’s warm, and the fog makes everything look enchanted. A car comes down the road and apparently, the driver doesn’t see us. We jump out of his way and he keeps going. Some people! Oh, well, it’s time to get going anyway.
We hurry back, take a quick shower, get dressed and leave. For the last time, I have to open and close the rolling gate. I latch the gate after Reggie drives through. I look up at the gate house into the staring eyes of the hulking, lobotomized, crazy guy from my dream. He is not amused, but then again, neither am I. Strangely enough, my heart doesn’t stop, doesn’t skip a beat, doesn’t do anything. I calmly get back in the car and I don’t tell Reggie about seeing the guy from my dream.
As Reggie is driving away, I pull down the vanity mirror on the back of the sun visor to put on some lipstick. In the mirror, I can only see the fog through the rear window. I angle the mirror, searching for my face. Now I can see the reflection of the ghostly lighthouse emerging from the fog. I adjust the mirror again, and again, and again. I am filled with a sense of dreadful understanding.
My face is not there.
Photo Credit: Gloria Talcove, Foggy Morning on the Grounds of the Point Arenas Lighthouse
(Both On-Line Reviews were taken from www.tripadvisor.com)