My day was bad and my heart wouldn’t shut up about it, so I grabbed my swimming shorts and drove toward the beach. The night sky swirled around my car as I sank deeper inside it.
I’m not exceptionally crazy, I know swimming is for the day. My head kept saying to me: “you know you’re not going to jump in.” But under the veil of night, hidden in my parked car, I still changed out of my jeans. It was not exciting or empowering, but it was not quite stoic either.
Foresight had lent me a towel; grace had gifted me a hoodie. Past the pavement, past the sand-infused wooden planks bridging the dune grass, I saw the beach stretched out before me, dim under the lightless sky. The new wind made me shiver, but only because I’m weak. There were no people. I was grateful for the solitude, but maybe shouldn’t have been - if there were judging eyes I could blame them for when I failed.
I took of my shoes and socks first, so I could feel the sand. The grains were cool. I took off my hoodie and my shirt. Once I was defenseless against the wind, the cold was no longer a matter of opinion, but I wasn’t going to admit anything with the sea so close and mocking.
In my messed-up mind, at some point, I associated the ocean with death. I could recall a nightmare I had as a kid: I saw a towering wave behind me, and felt fear, and I was desperately trying to get away, climbing the sand in front of me, but I kept sliding, never reaching the top, and every time I slipped I glanced back, and saw the ocean wall mounting, sending me further toward panic. You may be able to relate if you watch waves crashing into a rocky shore; you might be able to see what I see, how the salt water is ruthless in its attack on the living land.
On the beach, on this night, the water hid its violence and seemed sinister instead. The meager waves reached slowly up, searching, before frothing their claws upon the shore. I watched them from the small pile of my warmer things. I could’ve waited there, standing but not moving, all night and maybe forever - too aware of the ocean’s imminence to run away, but unable to do anything else, and when the time came when it was too late for options it would no longer matter what I felt and did. Whatever was there would be hidden by the wave that loomed over me; only it would know the final moments before I was engulfed.
I broke into a run. The sand became hard and punched back against my heels. I did not slow down, even though the sea ahead did not change what it was. My feet splashed in the shallow water, and then my shins were pushing against it and it was frigid and thick. My momentum was taken from me, but I continued, the water reaching almost to my waist. A small wave came to pass me, and I jumped to avoid it, only to see that doing so was futile and absurd. Ahead I saw the next wave, and I stopped where I was - all awareness of what I was feeling and all thoughts on what I was doing were suspended - and I let it come to me.
I dove through the empty belly, and for a peaceful second I glided beneath the water. It was a silent second, in a realm spacious and removed from the outside world. Then, from that vast nothing I shot back up, bursting back into sound and whatever else. I was waist deep and dripping, and the small dose of cold shock spurred me from that wretched place. I ran slower away than I did in - subdued, submitted.
Once I had made it out of the sea and back to my clothes, for a little while, I stayed wrapped in my towel. The same wind was blowing, but with my towel it didn’t feel like it. When I did go to dry the rest of myself off and put my shirt and hoodie on, I came to realize that I felt almost ashamed for jumping in. But a little shame for my neurosis was at least better than failing. I slung my towel over my shoulder and picked up my shoes.
Before leaving, I turned back to face the sea and its mean little waves. It was still menacing in the night, now it was just somewhat less so. Maybe that’s all we should hope for.