When the Water Calls

When my kids were young, when we first came back from Germany, when my marriage to the other guy was being held together with tape and googly eyes, when I couldn’t breathe, when I couldn’t think, when I wasn’t on meds and needed them badly, when I was dissociating, I took the kids to the beach.

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My feet, which had walked way too far and way too long to get there, were suddenly surrounded by rushing water and the Space of Nothing I needed. The water was cold and fast and then pulled at my soul before it receded, taking my fears, confusion, disappointments and grief with it on its way back out to sea.

19

This was “Our Beach” and the kids knew how far they could walk and still yell into the surf and find me. There were huge boulders and small crabs and hot sand for miles. There was my daughter wearing her suit with the rainbow, ruffled rumba-butt, worried what might be lurking in the water that she couldn’t see. And my oldest refusing to have fun because he was just-that-much-too-cool and pulling a towel over his body, taking a nap nestled in the grains of sand while the sun kissed a slice over his leg when the make-due-blanket slid down.

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And there were my other two boys, unashamed to have hard, wild and loud fun, running into the waves, grabbing boogie boards and refusing to let me swipe sunscreen on them because they just can’t stop running right now, Mommy. Can’t stop right now, but soon.

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I sat. I watched. I stood at the edge of the world where the packed, wet sand meets eternity, with my feet sinking lower and lower with every pull of water and wondered who I was, where I went, and how I could find me.

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In the summer more people came. More and more each year. Parking got harder. Walking was further. The jugs of water, towels, sunbathers and canopies that dotted the sand got closer and closer together. The water began to burst with more and more surfers and swimmers but we didn’t stop going to Our Beach because, well, it was ours. No matter what else it was, it was ours.

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The world ended one spring, just as we had started going back to Our Beach that year, and I had a vacation in a mental hospital with strangers that knew me better than anyone else. Within minutes the kids had moved with their dad to what might as well have been another country and I had no passport. The gates closed on Our Beach and we never went back.

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I spent the next ten years or forever driving past Our Beach every other weekend and sometimes in the middle of the week on a Thursday to see them play sports or be in a play, using any excuse to get to watch their faces talk about everything, anything, please talk about something, to me.

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I looked out the window at that water and wondered what it did with all my secrets. But I never went back to Our Beach because it wasn’t ours anymore. It was just a regular beach now, like a hundred other beaches, one that belonged to everyone else in the world more than me or us.

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I’m finding new beaches now with my guy, the guy that stands by me when the tide is high or low. I don’t claim these wild beaches or try to make them my own. I understand better that the magic when the water races to the shore and dances around your feet, pulling out the grief and sadness, belongs to everyone. You can’t own a wild thing, anyway. It’s just pretending to think you can and I don’t need to pretend anymore.

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I sit. I breathe. I stand in the surf on the edge of the world and watch my guy swim out into the magic and feel so much joy it hurts in a delicious and comforting way, now that I’m healing, now that I’m happy in my soul where it’s quiet, now that I can breathe, now that I can think, now that I’ve found myself.

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12 Responses

  1. Leah, you must have telepathically been at my Monday Night Writers group, I pulled this prompt, from Pablo Neruda’s Book of Questions: “When I see the sea once more will the sea have seen or not seen me? ” LOVE this!

  2. Lovely. I’m glad you found your way back.

    I’m also glad that I was right about you two even when you tried to tell me differently.

  3. Leah, this is so touching. Beautiful words from a beautiful lady. I’m so glad I got to become one of your friends.

  4. Sue – I totally forgot about the day we hung out in the middle of that hard year. You’ve been a good friend for a long time. xoxo

  5. This is beautiful, the writing, the pictures, all of it. I like how you write the real, the true. I two have (a few) mental illness hospital visits, but our groups didn’t really share much. We were just bumps on a log.

  6. @Charity – Thank you. I’ve been in a few different mental hospitals. They all kind of have their own flavor, don’t they? : )

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