the sea, and leaving it

I can tell when things are getting bad, I start to dream about the sea again.

I have a friend, she’s some sort of mermaid, who will swim out beyond the break, out to the boat moorings and back. She could swim before she could walk. I admire that, her salt-rimed hair and skin, teeth white and sharp against the sun and sand and sea.

But when I look at the ocean all I feel is the featureless expanse of death. I lost two of my kin to the deep, as one does in families like mine, but even before then it was something where the fear made more sense than respect. The holding pattern we would be in, waiting to see when the storm ended. I can remember the days being sunny and warm and still but there was a storm out there, out above the waves far from home, so we were waiting by the radio anyway. The sea is danger, and waiting, and holding my breath against the possibilities. It’s the weight of history and my childhood, a past that makes me everything I am and that I can never leave, no matter how far I swim. The saltwater matches the memory of blood in my mouth, but without the iron warmth.

So, you understand what I mean when I say that I can tell when things get bad because the sea creeps into my consciousness, water swelling around my ankles, seeping into my speech, despair rolling over me like a wave. Then it comes into my dreams and I imagine this is what dying feels like, the oblivion of going home.

A few days ago I dreamed of a friend, sitting on the shoreline atop a rock like some siren, as the waves broke over him. He stayed silent, still and smiling, as the waves took more and more of him. I was trying desperately to reach him but all I could do was focus on his face, smiling, as the waves washed the essence right out of him. Until he was transparent, then a Cheshire smile and dark eyes against the grey-green roll of the break, then nothing. Just the ocean and the waves and the memory of where he used to be.

I didn’t wake crying, just…broken open, gasping for breath against the pull of the water. Like the silence when you go under, the pressure and the darkness behind your eyelids.

I’ll surface again, I always have, but for now I’m holding my breath against the temptation to let go and follow a song into the deep.

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