I both love and am terrified of the ocean. Everyday people ask me, “Have you gone for a swim yet?” and I’m afraid to admit that I’m scared of the water, that when I can’t touch the sandy bottom anymore I panic and I’m sure I will drown. Not seeing the bottom, feeling my toes wrap and twist in deep beds of kelp, being pulled unaware further out to sea until I’m within the grips of something much more powerful than my sense of control. All of this frightens me.
On the way home from work, locals stop to take a swim to wash the dirt and stress of the office out of them before going home. You leave it at the shore and let the ocean demolish it. Just like leaving your shoes at the door, you leave your angst and worry at the threshold between land and sea. I go there for clarity. I go for peace. I go to remember things. I find that now when I approach the edge and let the tide swirl around my ankles I am overcome with the need to strip and jump in. I mostly watch and wait. I see other swimmers throw down their flip flops and shirts, and walk with familiarity and grace into the waves. They are going into the womb. They are going into the Mother to lie flat on their backs and watch the clouds pass over, to be cradled between land and sea and sea and sky. They dolphin flip down deep into the water and come up with treasures from the bottom. They swim dozens of yards out to sea and then they pray or they scream or they cry or they laugh. They just… release. And then they go home.
People tell me, I must swim at least once everyday. The island is a waste unless I do. So when I’m up to it, or when I’m curious about what the water will make me feel today, I go to the shore and remember Ocean Beach with my mom. When I was little we would walk next to the surf on foggy days. My mom liked teasing me by running closer and closer to the waves until the rolled cuffs at her knees were in the water and then run back. I became so frightened once that I started crying. She couldn’t swim and I was too afraid of the water to go out there after her. I was so afraid to have her out of my grasp, to give her over to something so unpredictable. She was teaching me how to lose control.
I look at the waves now, knowing that JAWS has already begun to return to the north shore. JAWS is a swell of water that makes the waves larger than the Mavericks at Half Moon Bay. JAWS is what you see when these waves curl over you 50 feet in the air. It has already started to change the anatomy of the local beach by shifting the sand up closer to the trees. The waves are much bigger and much closer. Farther out you can see even larger ones breaking where the ocean bottom drops down two thousand feet. The rip tide and the undertow are the strongest they’ve been since I arrived and are getting stronger. No one is swimming. Only bodysurfers and boogie boarders bob between the crests. The surfers will come when the waves are even bigger. I watch in the tide, sinking in the sand. It’s not a good idea. But I still want to and I might. I’ll keep watching. I’ll keep waiting. Slowly I’ll find ease in giving myself over to everything less predictable than myself.