Did you know that I knew too?
That summer you told me that you loved me. You said this would your eyes shut, afraid to see my response. Afraid that our friendship would be over and that would be it.
Then you opened your eyes and looked into my eyes. And you saw love there. And our friendship didn’t end. It shifted. Two 18 year old children pretending to be adults. I became pregnant a month later. We had plans for college, to get out of the little South Dakota town in the middle of nowhere. To go see the ocean even though I’m terrified of water. I still wanted to sit in awe of something so big, so full of life, so unknown to us humans even now.
But my stomach began to balloon, and my little 18 year old self knew what was to come. We decided that you would go to college finish your time there, get a good job and come back for me while I stayed with my family taking care of our baby.
You went off to your dream, and I put mine on hold. You called every night your first 3 months. You’d come home every other weekend, starved to see my face to se our baby. But then, it changed. You began to call less and less. You didn’t look so starved to see me and the baby. I’d cry to my mama
every night and then one day I stopped hearing from you altogether. Your family wouldn’t say what you were doing why you stopped calling. I didn’t even know when or if you ever came home.
The baby’s due date came and I prepared to be a mama myself. Alone. The doctor came in and gave me the news that was more devastating than you leaving me. She could not hear the baby’s heartbeat. I hadn’t even named my baby yet. I pushed all the lifeless life out of me.
She was a little blue ball of mine. Perfectly in a ball waiting for me
to hold onto what would’ve been a whole life together. I can’t explain what happened after. The sky opened while I held my little girl. I named her Alina. A musical name for a beautiful possibility if what “could’ve been”. The sky poured, while I rained down my heartache. Life isn’t kind at times I think.
18 year old me decided it was time for college. I packed my old room and my worried parents watched my little pickup become swallowed by the horizon. You called me some years later asking to meet me and ask about our child. I didn’t answer at first bEva use you do not deserve to know anything.
But I was graduated living as a young professional working real estate on the banks of North Carolina. We met on the beach, and I told you that you weren’t allowed to speak until I was finished. You were thinner Than I remember, tired looking and sad. I felt no sympathy. You closed your eyes afraid of what you would see.
This time I told you to open them during what I had to say. You did and you cried the whole time I spoke of what was and what could’ve been.
You began to apologize over and over again. You tried to explain yourself. But I wouldn’t let you. I don’t regret that. I don’t want to know. All I heard from you was that you were young and stupid, and made huge mistake.
i left you weeping on the beach next to an ocean I had always feared yet was in awe of.
I’m 40 now, and I think most of my life I’ve lived in fear of what I don’t know. You never reached back out. But I sent you a letter last year because I felt you should to know our baby’s name.
And I summed up our time together in 2 sentences:
"I've been tryna swim with both my hands behind my back. My dear, I always feared the ocean.”
I still fear the ocean. I wonder about my Alina and the life she could’ve had. but now I dive into the current of life regardless of fear, knowing the whole time that having fear doesn’t make me a coward, living and never trying does.
That Day on the Beach
"I've been tryna swim with both my hands behind my back. The ocean current pulling my feet down. The gentle ocean breeze blowing water into my eyes. The endless expanse of ocean opening before me. That boat, that cursed boat and that handsome sweet boy who wasn't so sweet.
I have swam for hours in a direction I do not know. I am just trying to escape from the boy who I loved. I would drown if needed. He wanted me, all of me but he couldn't stand it when I rejected him. When I told him I wasn't ready. He lied to me and told me he was scared of the ocean. He manipulated me into coming out onto his boat.
"Becky!" the voice called. "Where are you?"
I start to kick harder and swim faster, desperate to get away or die. The sound of a boat slicing through the waves like an ominous shark creeps closer. The feeling that I'll be caught at any moment is a constant at the back of my neck.
I feel a hand reach out and grab me. "There you are!" the boy said. "Now, why don't we finish what we started?"
The feeling of a knife being rammed into my side causes me to cry out. I have no fight left in me and I submit to the will of my captor. The feeling of cold wind on my skin is what I cling to as my captor stabs me repeatedly until, the stabbing stops and the sound of gurgling blood breaks me from my trance.
"It's gonna be okay ma'am. I am Agent Hunter Price of the FBI. You're safe now. We've long suspected you were in danger from Yaldo Tucker the infamous drug kingpin."
I was then sent to a hospital and put into a medically induced coma."
"Mom! Is all of that even true? I thought you loved the ocean!"
"My dear, I always feared the ocean."
Thought I’d do Something New
It was the splashing that made her pause at the door, knock twice and then peeked in. There he was naked as a jay bird flat on his tummy in the tub. Hands behind his back, water up to his chin, humping and splashing like a Hippo in heat.
“Darling, what in Sam’s Hill do you think you’re doing in my bathroom?”
“I’ve been tryona swim with both hands behind my back.”
“Did you eat a big bowl of stupid this morning? ”
“Nope, just thought I’d do something new.”
“Well, do it somewhere else, it’s past time for my bubble bath.”
“Okay, mom.....but I’ve always feared the ocean.”
“Sweety, you’ve gone and proven the size of the water don’t matter much.
You could stand out in the driveway and still be way over your head.”
“Huh, I never thought of it that way.”
“You are right about one thing...you never thought.”
Lament from the Ocean
You were always one step ahead of me. And I loved that about you.
You had the ability to weave an entire world with your words and I'd always get swept up in the waves of your intricate storytelling. An unexpected meeting with an old friend would turn you into a playwright, with me as the audience as you presented your one-man production of the history you two shared. I held your hand, looking at your back, as you explored an infinite world of possibilities in the most mundane things, steady and sure without ever letting go.
Your words fascinated me, liberated me, inspired me to break through turbulent waters and view the world through your eyes. And I tried, I tried so hard to catch up to the brilliance you painted the world with but I was always one step short.
You never seemed to mind; at least not from the start.
Slowly you began to save your words. At first, you'd give me a movie script, gradually turning into an essay, later a paragraph and finally, barely a sentence. You conserved your words for others, setting me aside as shackles slowly began crawling up my wrists. I wanted to reach out for you, to finally express the thoughts bubbling within me but I was far too late. I fell overboard, swallowed by the blue-black abyssal waters as you drifted away from me. I've been trying to swim with both my hands behind my back, trying to close the gap between us, but I am anchored, doomed to spend the rest of my days struggling to remain afloat with my head above the coarse salty reservoir.
I know one day I will be required to break free of these fetters myself, to stop myself from drowning and swim ashore but, my dear, you knew I always feared the ocean.
you and i
this relationship is a boiling sea
the ebb and flow of you and me.
the world could fade into black
and i'd never feel the darkness coming.
i try to drag us back to shore
but dipping our feet
always turns into something more.
together we're slipping into the crack
of an endless rift in the sea.
i've been trying to stop it,
i've been tryna swim with both my hands behind my back
but my legs are getting tired
and i don't know how much longer
i can keep going.
i thought i could make it work
so i dived in headfirst.
but my dear,
i've always feared the ocean
and you and i
are a neverending sea.
I have hydrophobia. Well at least in certain situations.
“My dear, I always feared the ocean,” I said to my companion.
“But you’re on this boat,” Jamie protested.
“It only bothers me to the extreme if I can’t touch the bottom. I feel like I’ve been tryna swim with both hands behind my back.”
“Pepaw, you’re slurring your words again. How bad is the pain?”
Jamie’s words were soft with sympathy. How could I tell her about the memories which haunt me? I’ve never shared them with anyone, and time is running out, The pressure inside my head was reaching nuclear explosion levels. Ten was my minimum when I had to try and quantify what I was experiencing.
“The pain is what it is, sweetheart. You don’t need to be with me on this trip.”
“I love you. You saved me from my miserable murderous father. I’ve always been able to count on you for advice and love. I can’t do anything else. I’m going to miss you so much.”
She burrowed under my arm where I stood with the ferry’s railing clasped in a white knuckled death grip. I risked letting go of my anchor to give her a one armed hug. This child of my only daughter, this survivor, was the reward for all I’ve survived. The death of my wife, the death of Amie our daughter, and watching as the officials in the Montana prison injected her father and he took his last breath. Now I wanted to show her where I met my love, my angel. Arianna who left me with Amie to raise.
“A penny for your thoughts, Pepaw.”
I pulled the silver chain out from under my shirt. It and the locket it suspended around my neck were blackened with tarnish. I hadn’t taken them out of the memory box which held them and the single portrait of Arianna for years.
“I’m taking a trip down memory lane.” I slipped the delicate chain over my head and settled it around Jamie’s.
The chain was long enough for her to hold the locket up, easily releasing the catch.
“Oh.” It came out with a long sigh before Jamie continued. “She’s Memaw?”
“Yes, and you look just like her. I’m going to show you where we lived, and where she rests. And the little house where your mother was born, and the land around it. This is your legacy, but it’s a sad story. One I’ve kept from you.”
“I’m ready to hear it. I’ve always wondered what happened.”
“We’ll be staying in the house where your mother was born. I hope you’ll understand why I kept this from you.”
I watched her chin tremble, and then her deep violet eyes came up to meet mine.
“I’m ready to hear it. I always knew you were hiding a secret.”
Perceptive girl, I thought. I wonder if you’ll still love me when I’m done?
I drag my hand through the water…
It’s a lovely feeling.
It moves in between my fingers
And splashes delicately onto my skin.
I always loved the water.
I don’t feel it.
I only stare at it.
I look into the depths of what is blue and green and grey,
And what I find is my reflection -
Distorted in the streaks of the water.
Maybe it’s alive,
Maybe it knows me,
Maybe it realizes I’ve changed.
The water used to sparkle
It was beautiful.
What have I done to it?