Monday, February 27, 2012

Not a Drop to Drink

February 27, 2012 – Not a drop to drink
I take my first full out plunge into the ocean. Stumbling over rocks and grasping for balance against the waves, I scramble down across the pebbled beach. A swell strikes me and I gasp at the cold slap of the water. I’ve stuck my feet into the Pacific before. I’ve dipped my hand into the Atlantic. I’ve even swum in one of the Great Lakes, but this is my ordinal oceanic emersion. The water splashes up against my face. I sputter and shake my head to clear my eyes. I’ve made a pact with myself not to drink it--you know it being saline and probably dirty. But the drops touch my lips and when I breathe I take the salt in. I’m surprised at how salty it is. I mean, it’s really really salty. Of course it is; it’s the ocean, silly.

I swim out a ways, turn to wave at Katrina who agreed to take some photos for me. Then I face the open water, the distant horizon and tread. I’d needed a vacation day. My head’s been hurting; something angry pounding at my temples with a gathering impatience. My neck’s been getting tighter and stiffer. And I’ve had a progressively growing grouch. I’ve been working hard on my novel revision. Hours and hours at a time each day switching sentences around, removing text, adding in words and staring into space with an outstretched hand mimicking a character’s motion and emotion in my mind. I’d gotten high off the completion of my second draft only to come crashing down when I realized how much more work I still needed to do. My doubts and delusion of grandeur war each day, each moment, and I always fight the frenzy of my artistic temperament.

Now I put all that out of my mind. I rock with the waves. Up and down. When I miss a rise, a wave falls on me and I’m shoved under. Down. The fury of it passes by. I part the water with my hands and come up. Face in the open air, I smile. The water doesn’t feel as cold as before. I breathe in and out. Blocking out everything but this very moment. This buoying of me, this embracing of the water, this rocking stillness, this rhythmic crashing of time.
For the first time in days, I’m at peace. My mind calms. Future plans can wait. Money stress can be worried over later. I float. Tread. Sidestroke. Scissor kick. Back stroke to reposition myself between the two jetties. Wonder how far I could go. Wonder how far I could go and still make it back.

Swimming lazily, I think of my great-uncle Paul. He was a sergeant in the Air Force. Part of the Jolly Green Giants pararescue teams who parachuted into Vietnam and saved the lives of the downed soldiers, pulled them out and brought them home. My grandmother had told me before of great a swimmer he was. “He’d swim out with these mighty strokes until we couldn’t see him anymore,” she said.
Looking out to sea, here, I see how far that would be. Although I’ve only heard stories of him, I know that Uncle Paul was tall and strong, American and brave. He reenlisted time and again so that, “kids like Johnny and Jeff (my dad and uncle) wouldn’t have to go to Vietnam.” In his last tour, his helicopter was shot down over Laos. He was MIA for over twenty years until 1995 when his remains were found and brought home. In my mind, he’s become this legend of character. The kind of man you wish every man was. And a good swimmer to boot.  (
I let the thoughts go. Let the passed on memories splash up and evaporate into the atmosphere. Let the admiration I have for a man I never met ride away from me toward the horizon as far away from me as he could have swum. I stay where I am. Clear my mind once again. I could stay here, riding the waves forever. But I don’t. I pull some strong strokes and head for the shore.

There’s no graceful way to scratch back up the rock incline to the rock strewn beach. I’m short of breath and suddenly self-conscious. I’m not in the shape I’d like to be. I’m not a swimsuit model. I don’t look like the athlete I’d been for so many years. I'm no pararescuer.
But then, as I sprawl out, belly-down on my towel and let the sun dry me out, I mock myself and let those insecurities dry out too.  
Because after all, what does that matter? I just swam in the ocean. It’s summertime in Lima. And here I am basking on the rocks in the sun. Life doesn’t get much better than this.

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