Monday, August 6, 2007

The home of water

May 28th, 2007

(old post from the myspace)

It was a stroke of luck that P~ picked up the phone when I called on the 17th of May. It was around 9:30 pm Birmingham time and an hour later in Cape Cod.

“Hey! What are you doin?” she said, sounding more southern than usual.
“I’m about to go skinny dipping” I told her.
“Seriously? I wish I was there! How warm is it?”
“Not warm, it’s freezing actually but we are going anyway.”

We start giggling and I can feel the nerves start to tickle my stomach. Now that I had announced my plans to P~ there would be no going back on it. I was definitely going into the bay.

Before setting out, the leader of our group had reminded us that we had to be quiet as public nudity was a felony. “It is when you do it!” I quipped and for that I was rewarded with cheers. The cheering was followed by good-natured shushing and then more giggling as we set off to the beach on foot.
I kept P~ on the phone with me during the walk.

“How many people is it?” she asked.
I counted and told her we were 23 people, about an equal distribution of men and women and an age span of about 40 years. I whispered to her for the duration of the walk. I told her how fundamentally tired I was and how long I had been working.

When she asked me if the work was worthwhile I replied with, ‘absolutely!’ but in truth, I’m not always so sure. Something about sneaking around in the salt-windy dark made the previous months seem less consequential and less painful. We talked about a mutual friend and how much I missed the both of them after only two weeks. She told me a little about the weather at home, my house plants and quitting her job.

The wind picked up when we rounded the corner to the beach. It hit the mouth piece of my cell phone and P~ gasped, “I can hear it! It sounds so cold there!”

I was still whispering but I increased my volume slightly to compete with the wind.
“We’re walking through some bushes now” I told her, “We have to press our sides into the fence of a tennis court because the path is so narrow. People are disappearing around a corner in front of me…I’m there! I’m here! I’m at the water. I have to go, I wish you were here, can you hear it? I have to go!”
I was babbling with excitement as a fresh surge of wind pushed off the ocean. She was laughing on the other end of the phone. “Go! Go!” she said, breathless, “Bye!”

Later, when I reached my dorm room again I called her back, but she didn’t pick up. In voice mail I told her that it was amazing and great and that I would talk to her soon. Her voice mail cuts you off quickly so I didn’t tell her the following until I returned to Birmingham:

The beach was cold and completely sandy. As I stood there, trying to get my bearings I could hear shouts and laughter coming from the water. It was frightening because the wind and surf muted their calls, making it sound like they had been carried out much further than could be safe. Along the reeds at the top of the beach people were stripping off clothes and running into the waves. They were mostly naked, some clothed but the only thing that marked the distinction was a slight change in the light their bodies reflected from a little sliver of the moon. I removed my shoes, jeans, and tee-shirt but kept my underwear and a tank top on. I told myself that it wasn’t prudish modesty, just practicality and protection from the cold water. I stood there for a second more and then ran, straight into the water, not stopping until it hit my shoulders. I could feel my feet slip and my head went under. For a second I panicked, feeling like I would be swept away, and no one would know I was gone. Then the tide surged forward just enough to plant my feet in the sand and my eyes adjusted to see all of the people bobbing around me. I pulled my clothes off under the water and started laughing.
It was colder than my skin could comprehend and while my brain tried to sort out information about temperature, salinity, motion and time it was unable to think the following things:

1) Graduate school is scary because success is not guaranteed. You can not depend on the outcome.

2) Your family needs you and you are not there. You can not be depended on.

3) Some day soon your little sister will learn that being an adult means being alone, even when you are surrounded by people who love you. You can not always depend on others.

4) Every day something can happen to change everything that came before and love may not fix it. You can depend on that.

My brain put everything aside and for once, just processed the information at hand. The temperature was extremely cold, the salinity was high, the motion was soothing and time didn’t matter. Once that piece of news reached me, I walked out of the bay. I didn’t care that my thighs were still fat and that I was holding my underwear in front of relative strangers. I found my towel just as a naked Swiss man grabbed me in a bear hug.
“We did it! Ja! We did it!”

I couldn’t stop laughing as I pulled on dry clothes. Further up the beach another student heard me laughing. We had butted heads for most of the course but when he spotted me he called out, “Mariya! Did you see me? I did it! Did you see me? I went in!”

I lied, and told him that I had seen him go in. Then I told the truth and said that it was awesome that he went in. I pulled a water bottle full of whiskey from the pocket of my sweatshirt, took a swig and then offered it around. Everyone had some and everyone thanked me for it. The walk back from the beach seemed too short. It was over and already becoming a sandy, damp, ridiculous memory.

When I think about it now it seems a shame that a feeling like that can ever fade. I guess if we walked around thinking, ‘the motion is soothing and time doesn’t matter’ it would be hard to get things done. So now I’m home. It’s hot in Birmingham and the wildfires from Georgia have made a thick haze throughout the city. We are landlocked here, so no ocean to clear the smoke away from our brains and our bodies. Nothing is perfect but one thing did surface from that salty cleansing of my brain. I read it when I was in college it is one of my favorite quotes from Zora Neale Hurston. The day after skinny dipping I woke up with it in the front of my mind.

“Don't you realize that the sea is the home of water? All water is off on a journey unless it's in the sea, and it's homesick, and bound to make its way home someday”

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