Storytime: You, Me, and the Sea

Please enjoy this post where I tell you a story about an event from my life. Nothing more, nothing less. Today’s story: who I am in the water.

She’s jetting off. Into the middle distance. Far away from me. Disappearing under my watchful eye.

I grew up by the sea, by the ocean. The air filled with a mixture of salt and brine, my skin kissed by sun and sand. Hauling myself into its frozen depths. The water never warmed, the tide turned under my feet. A body of water too north and too deep to do anything but hold its chill even in the peak of summer.

But I am far from home now. Far from the rocky shores of my childhood. The ground is different but the water here so similar, stretching on forever, stretching into nowhere and nothing, seems the same from the surface. I am standing by the water like I have always stood by the water. Stood on two sides of the same ocean. Or stood at two shores of the same country. Stood half a world away, watching the water meet the land. Watching small shells get engulfed in the clear liquid. Watching rocks and kelp disappear. Driftwood come and go.

It smells like nothing here. The water no more than brackish, the life nearly vacant under its waves and she’s disappearing into them all the same. She is the only alive thing. And she is being swallowed by the shine of the sun off the surface of the water while her body hangs above the water line.

I find myself running into the waves after her. The water is thin but resistant and the floor of the sea is soft and smooth, kicking up sand under my ministrations. There are no animals under my feet and no kelp tangling up my legs. The floor is even and straight. Orderly. It never dips or wavers. The waves don’t consume. They only come up to my knee and I stop – suddenly filled with confusion. Realizing that I am somewhere else and the world has changed under my feet. And I am left, looming over the sea. Body uncovered by water.

In my childhood I nearly drowned several times. The sea I grew up near had sharp drop offs. Its cold and occasionally turbulent water had strong rip tides. They would pull without warning. They would tear and rip. And when they had you under their spell, the cold liquid filled with salt would soak up your throat and your nose. It would take what little air you held on to before with such force that when you were released you could taste it. It would linger in your mouth, like a fine wine. As if you could hear the salt in every sharp harsh pant.

None of that exists here. The water is calm and quiet and unfettered. She sits down, so far from the me that she no longer seems to scale with the rest of the world. When I reach her, chasing her ghost, pulling my thick sea legs through the heavy water, I cannot see the shore anymore. And yet, as she sits down in the water it laps just under her armpit. As if she’s hardly just left the edge of the world.

The sun is setting to our left. I roll my shoulders under the water to feel it slide across me. To feel as if I am being subsumed by the sea. The water is clear. Not warm but not cold either, rolling gently back and forth between us, no more than a sigh. I cannot remember if I have ever sat on the floor of the ocean and not had to fight for it. Not had to shake my legs and arms, not had to struggle against the tide. I lay back to try and float and find that cannot be done here either. The water too thin, too fresh to hold a body up. To hold my body together.

She turns away from me and smiles. And it’s easy. The breeze is light and warm and the water feels surprisingly neutral. I pull sand from the floor of the sea and run it through my fingers while I listen to the lilt in her voice. To the glowing up and down of every word. The sand is so thin and so soft it can be packed like snow, wet and mushy, into a clay-like substance for a second before it disintegrates – returning to where it came.

I watch the water flow, the motion of it not even strong enough to be called waves, as it rolls along the surface. The sheen of the sun in my eyes, the colors all blending into a soft palette of pink and blue and yellow. Her blond hair glows in a halo, her features disappearing in the glare. Feet kicking up through the water, lazily rolling along to the sway of the sea. Big droplets hit the surface, the only disturbance for miles.

When I was growing up, in the ocean, I would spend most of my time on the sand starring at the dark water in front of me. I would wish myself to fall into it and never return. Wish that some one would come rolling out of its nooks, out of the depths, and claim me. Take me back where I belong. Take me back home (as if my home were the sea).

It’s strange now then to be sitting in the water, just far enough that the shore is a mirage where it appears on the edge of my vision. The sand and the people and the children playing at the water’s edge seem more dream than reality. A mirror of the person I used to be, who looked out at me and saw a place to belong. Looked out to me, in the water, and thought it would be better to be here. Among the sea. Among the other.

Even when we return to the shore, racing with our arms extended, racing with our feet kicking up sea spray, kicking up droplets of water until the sparkle and mist, I look back at the water and wonder where I belong. Wonder if there is someone I should be looking for, something I am missing. Somewhere I am missing.

As if on cue, as if she could hear me (my thoughts too loud and too numerous even now), she turns to me and her face softens as she thanks me for joining her.

I look out at the sea and at the quiet place we sat in the water, neutral and strange. And I am glad to be.

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