The First Time I Saw The Ocean, I Almost Drowned.

Musings on Fear and Friendship

Photo by Matt Hardy on Unsplash

The first time I saw the ocean, I almost drowned. Twenty-one and high off the fact that I was breathing in ocean breezes for the first time. My friend had warned me not to go past a certain point. Warned that it was too far away to swim back without utterly fatiguing myself. The hypnosis of the waves and the sun on my back lured me. Transformed me back into that reckless eight-year-old whose doctors said would never walk or ride a bike or talk. Told my parents I would never have the necessary inner balance. Today, I ride my bike constantly and will ramble your ear off in a minute when I’m excited. It only cost me a perpetually bruised left leg, one headfirst slam into a wall, and the wish to be heard.

“Almost every woman I have ever met has a secret belief that she is just on the edge of madness, that there is some deep, crazy part within her, that she must be on guard constantly against ‘losing control’ — of her temper, of her appetite, of her sexuality, of her feelings, of her ambition, of her secret fantasies, of her mind.”-Elana Dykewomon, Notes For A Magazine

When I was a child, I loved the idea of stepping into the ocean and being swept to another land. No boat. No plank. Bare feet. Bare soul. Wash up on a distant shore. When I learned of triangles that could swallow a person whole, my intrigue only grew. Going under the waves has never scared me. I’d imagine my lungs adapting-flexing to turn water into air-absorbing the oxygen.

The lack of solid ground feels simultaneously like falling, floating, and flying. I can’t plan the currents. Can’t schedule the waves. Strangely, I wouldn’t want to. Part of the ocean’s charm is that I’ve never wanted to control it. Just wanted to be received while parts of me were swept away or torn away. With almost everything in life-jobs, ideals, relationships-I wander too deep. Almost always left with no map, no traction, miles away from the nearest shore.

Tell me, how many nights have you almost missed the sunset? How many arguments have you almost won? How many mistakes have you almost made? How many cities have you almost flown to? How many snapshots have you almost taken? How many people have you almost loved?

“Almost. It’s a big word for me. I feel it everywhere. Almost home. Almost happy. Almost changed. Almost, but not quite… Soon, maybe.” Joan Bauer, Almost Home

Chances are, you don’t remember. No-one does. We remember Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, not the countless who almost reached the peak of Everest. I’ve always been more interested in those who aren’t recorded in any history books. The fifth-place runners. The people who journal for years and never publish. The women who never broke the glass ceiling. The men who never broke the glass cage. Fantastically naive to care less about the winners or those in the wings behind but care desperately about those who never even make it to the stage.

We all know the story of specific and settled ends with “happily ever after.” Give me happenstance. Give me changes on a whim. Give me the stories of those who will never be anywhere near a fairy-tale ending. The story of she was almost my person. The story of he almost made it. The story of almost overcoming. Don’t shoehorn them in as precursors or props to the main exhibit. They are the the main attraction to me.

Love is not a foreign language to me. Neither is lust. The combination, however, of genuine affection and cozy attraction feels heavy in my mouth. My lips and hands constantly stumble when I try to form the words. Most languages I learn by slotting them into pre-existing boxes — inside jokes with friends, love with family, vulnerability with strangers, curriculum for schools, rants against ignorance, but this? This borrows the best words from each box, discards the horrible bits, and creates something entirely new. At times, this language surprises me. Pulls untold stories from my mouth, gives and receives both comfort and pain. Breathtaking and disturbing. Exhilarating and terrifying.

“Maybe we lose things because we fear what happens when we find them. How we live like we’d rather be dancing. How we dance like we’d rather be touching.”-Kelsey Danielle, The Quiet

If the ocean feels like a home I’ll never see again, this feels like a home I don’t have the right to step inside. I’ve got the key in my hand and the assurance that I’m not going to wander too deep. I don’t need more reassurances of safety. I only need a few more minutes to wade in and fall, float, fly.

Hipster. Hooligan. Writer. Wanderer. Sad AF, but you'll learn some things.

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