Growing up in Southern Maine, I was surrounded by coastline. I only ever lived 15, maybe 20 minutes at most, from the coast. I frequented the beach, especially in the warmer months. Summers spent in swimmers and sun hats. The scent of salt and sunscreen in the air as the breeze blew my hair around my face. The sand tickling my skin as it leeched my energy while the sun’s rays kissed and burned. The ocean, an abyss which threatened to swallow me whole, saying my name with each wave.
I am terrified of the ocean. Its waves make me anxious. I’m at the mercy of its motion, back and forth, back and forth. Its depth dizzies me. And it makes me feel small and insignificant. Nonetheless, for those reasons, I fell in love with the ocean, with the beach.
As I grew older, though, the beach became a tumultuous place. Sand in unmentionable places, unflattering bathing suits, attractive Canadians, God-only-knows-what reproducing in the ocean, it all made me cringe. I felt disconnected. A disconnect, I hadn’t known, then, existed with a purpose. But the beach remained my happy place. Without a doubt, the peace and contentment I felt had me returning. I could sit on the rocky fences lining the beach, close my eyes, and listen to the ocean’s rhythm synch with my heart beat until the sun disappeared behind it.
And yet, the mountains haunt me. And no, not Maine’s mountains. Though, I do love them. I’m talking about the mountains out west, in Colorado, which demand respect as they stand stoic and poised. I am terrified of the mountains, too. Their stature. Their calmness. Their force. And, again, I fell in love. My first trip out to them reminded me of my first trip to the ocean, to the beach. I was a child again, laughing, breathless, overwhelmed with awe and wonder. My last trip to Colorado, years later, only confirmed my love as I ran down Animas Mountain as a predator in pursuit.
I am married to the ocean, to the beach. But with 26 years of marriage, give or take, I fear I no longer love the ocean as I love the mountains. The mountains had become my mistresses. I could not ignore their calls, send them to voicemail, or delete their text messages, anymore. I dreamed of them. I yearned for them. What I felt then, that disconnect, I knew its purpose, now. I knew as I listened to the waves upon my return to Maine. Eyes closed, fingers and toes frozen, salt turning my hair and skin to wax, I knew.
I dug my frozen toes in the sand, and though it was December, it didn’t sting. The whipping wind didn’t sting. The icy water didn’t sting. The ocean whispered to me for she knew, too. She knew she no longer satisfied this rolling stone. She knew her waves, back and forth, back and forth, were no longer enough. Then she whispered, “It’s okay. You must roll forward. You must pack away the memories as you pack away your belongings.”
Warmth radiated from my heart, outward into my limbs, my toes, and into the sand, and the ocean, my ocean, my beach. We connected again, as I stood there, accepting our time together was done. My salty tears mixed with the salty air filling my lungs. I’d say goodbye officially before leaving, but the ocean and I, in that moment, my feet buried in the sand as the water bit at my ankles, understood each other. Fear, love, they’re the same. For I fear the things I love the most.
I stepped out of the hole I created in my beach’s heart. Though the ocean was quick to fill it. Leaving only imprints of my existence in the sand, I walked to my car. I turned back one last moment, “Thank you,” I said audibly to the ocean, the beach, the wind, to anything listening. It is time. Time to move on. Time to explore. Then, I got into my car and texted the mountains: I’m on my way.