It was 91 degrees and rising. Sunny. Saturday. A bit windy but a bright blue sky and I had been looking forward to the weekend since Monday. Home for a brief stop and my favorite place since I was a kid– the beach. I had the day off. Well, I took the day off. Fourth of July, let freedom reign. I got my best book and my old bikini and five seconds of space from my family, my colleagues, my friends. I was ready this summer for love. Ready for whatever may be. My tarot cards had been flashing Two of Cups and I was keeping an eye out. If there’s anything I trust, it’s tarot.
My mother let me borrow her folding chair, a towel, her flip flops. I always needed something when I went home. I always needed something in general. It was a littler windier than I would have preferred, as I said, so that sand whipped my thighs as I was getting ready. Better to wait on the suntan lotion, I thought. It was already too messy. But bright: bright, hot and sunny, like a heat storm which is unusual actually. On windy days, I usually see darker clouds even in the distance but the storm was coming and hadn’t caught up. Skies were serene, blue, clouds looked placid but the wind. Because I was starving, and I knew it would be bad but had to eat, I reached into the red and green Christmas colored bag my mother let me borrow as well.I had only brought a suitcase with the essentials: my laptop, my book, two outfits, underwear, socks, my three year old bathing suit that didn’t fit my breasts right anymore but I kept wearing it. The cup of the inseam twisted so my naturally crooked breasts looked even more crooked. Frugal and disheveled, I didn’t replace it. I also always brought my toothbrush even though my mother had one for me. I believed in packing light, and flight. I believed in moving.
The minute I opened my hummus container, the wind kicked up once more and blew all over the top so there was a nice grating as I bit into the first carrot stick. Nevertheless, she persisted. Persist in ideology, robustness, routine. Establish a routine. My new inflammatory flares were forcing me to eat differently, choose differently and make sure I ate breakfast, less coffee, less walking, more veggies. I dipped the second stick in and another gust blew. I turned my face to the left and felt a nice big chunk of sand land on my tongue. No more bread for me and all the better for it really. If I want to meet a mate, I’d have to shape up.
My friends say I’m lucky. That I’ve always been lucky. Yet, here I am, five years in a row alone and not always the better for it. Rough. I would say I’m getting rougher. I would say I’m getting scabrous, prickly to the touch. Like a cactus but drier inside. And empty. And void. I look at the stand to the right of me noting the yellow flag which means “Caution,” but not “Danger.” Not “Unallowed.” I place the hummus back in the bag and pull out the container of blueberries pouring a handful into my palm and then beginning to count. On red days, you can only really go calf deep. On yellow days, you have to swim by the stands. On green days, they didn’t blow the whistle that much. I stand up to brace the water. I came here to swim.
The sand was scalding hot. The sole of my feet burned a little on the way down. No reprieve, and my cheeks were whipped the whole way down. Hesitant for a moment, I turned back to face the chair once more. Something in my stomach lurched as I looked at it there, alone, made for one. I could hear my family’s laughter in the distance. Something in my chest hurt. I kept going. Dipping just my toes in at the shore line, the water was ice cold. Coriolis effect be damned, a storm was coming and had brought up the deep ocean currents. It was also July. August had more jellyfish but also warm water. When were there crabs? All the time.Growing up here, I knew everything about the beach.
I usually tried to avoid beaches with lifeguards because you can get away with more and my Everclear Slurpees were more hidden from sight on secluded spots or at night, but to be honest, that was a long time go. Today, it made me feel safe. The waves weren’t particularly large but there had been some rip current warnings at the beginning of the walkway. A sign was posted; probably always there but today I stopped and read it. Swim parallel to shore.
“I know,” I said out loud, as I began to wade.
I’m a strong swimmer and my friends say I’m lucky. I once ran headfirst into a cement mixer with my car and came out unschathed. Well, I broke my sternum and concussed mildly but the police didn’t take me to the hospital. They took me to jail for drunk driving. My head leaned against a metal toilet as I threw up all night and couldn’t see straight but I lived. I got that charge reduced to a first offense. I got that jail time reduced to house arrest and an ankle bracelet. I got that first arrest completely stricken from the record. I once also slid across the trolley tracks on my bike and flew headfirst into a car. Doctors said I was lucky I was wearing a helmet or else I would have concussed worse than I had, and probably worse than the cement mixer, and my glasses would have broken in my eyes. I fell through a treehouse and landed on a rusty nail that pierced only the rubber of my shoe, not even touching the foot. The glory of the ocean is current, tides, undertow. The glory of luck is timing.
I was up to my knees and waiting. Before I went to the beach today, I promised my guides I would do the ritual. Throw the blueberries in the water and say the right name. Thirteen of them. As I waded further in, I began to let one drop from my hand little by little so there was a curling line of blue dots at the surface for a moment. A fish darted past me. An omen.
“Whole body healing,” I said out loud.
And then dove in. Algid ripples cut through my skin like shards of ice were piercing me. Something pushed my torso backwards: an undulation, a phantom hand. Arising covered in goosebumps, I let out a long breath. Slowly, I let my toes touch the sea floor doing a quick sweep for broken shells that could cut or crabs that could pinch. Planted, I looked behind me to see if I could still see the fish. My body was pushed backwards by the force of the wave. I swiveled my body to the right a bit to see if I could still see my stuff or had it blown away? Squinting, I could see the little blue chair in the distance. Smiling, turning back to face her, a larger wave was forming. Get smacked or go under. I chose to dive in again. An underwater sway took over and my body was pulled towards it slightly and then pushed towards the floor. It felt like something was dancing with me but viscous, moving and in control. The tips of my toes pressed into the sand as I held my arms upward so I could propel myself back up. It was only three seconds since my head went under and my mouth opened again to salty air. It felt longer. Where I stood, I could feel the current pulling me backwards now. Had I not been firmly seeded in the ground, I may have floated further. I looked back to see if the lifeguard was still there. But I began to feel dragged.
I let my body take in what I was experiencing. Rip tide. Without any dawdling, I began to swim parallel towards the stand, a little further from my stuff.. I hit the trolely tracks the one time because I didn’t move perpendicular across them. It crossed my mind twice today, that accident. Once, driving here over the bridge and then again as I read the rip tide sign and hearing my friend says “you’re usually lucky anyway. Things have a way of falling in your lap>” She was referring to a job opportunity I was just offered to do private freelance consulting for less hours but more pay than my social work job.” This came shortly after I decided I wanted to quit social work and I hadn’t even applied for anything. But i’ve been fortunate in accident too. And I did feel my luck changing. I swam backs towards the beach perpendicularly for a moment, then parallel again. Then perpendicular, then parallel. What rip tides do is exhaust you. They pull you further and further out and because they are fast, they pull you far. They don’t take up the expanse of the short; just one line, but that one line is a bad place to be. You have to swim parallel to the shore to get out of the current, but it’s not easy and by the time you’re out, you’re far out. did about two more of these “T-movements:” to the left, then forward back to the beach. As I got my footing again, I looked to the lifeguard who seemed unconcerned by anything I was doing. She can see better than me. I felt calmer.
“Perhaps that was just a strong current,” I say out loud and see a family standing near the shore. “There are children in this water.”
But you can have rip tides form without knowing anywhere there are breaking waves. My gut dropped. I also felt something inside of me, underneath the water, some terror. I felt the pull of fingertips upon me. My head began to spin a little. Shivering, I begin to wade back towards the mother with her black curly hair and pink one-piece gripping her young daughter’s hand with her shorter but just as black and curly hair in a pony tail. Their bathing suits match.. They all have a dreadful look. Probably adjusting to the temperature. Her husband was wearing blue swimming trunks and has that typical dad bod; beer gut, mustache, sparse hair on chest and the son looks like my dead brother. Something in my sternum creaks. Old broken bones. Suddenly, very taken by my thighs glistening with droplets as I emerge, I keep my head down as I walk past them. I give the boy a glance but nothing more. His whole body is pale where the rest of the family is olive. Something in my heart moves. I hope the girl finds my blueberry. Or the fish that found my blueberry.
My seat is still there and covered with sand and I’m surprised it didn’t blow away. All that is weighing on it is sand that I had pressed on top of the two metal bottom bars and a prayer. My red and green Christmas bag too. My hands are a little shaky for some reason as I reach for my pink towel. I feel dizzy again. Plopping down without drying, giving up on it, pebbles stick to the back of my thighs.
I look down. I can’t get my breath.
The water must have kicked up my mild vertigo.
It helps to speak out loud when these attacks happen, although sometimes it helps to do nothing at all. Sometimes I sit clenched and don’t speak and barely breathe and my legs just fall off. I felt like I couldn’t move again. Like I couldn’t stand. Breathe. The wind kicked u. Sand got in my eye and I had to close it. Breathe. Then my face was hit. Ugh. Then I opened my eyes and there it was. The way you see things matters. The way you see them move. Right before something hits, your brain flashes: Oh. And it’s not like they say, I didn’t see my past. Well, I did but I didn’t see my past in this life so much as all the other lives coming together, coalescing into a nice tight and bitter coffin. The mordant taste of betrayal and several and today on my tongue: sandy and caustic. The knowing. The way I saw it first. The way under water I even thought, this isn’t it but it could have been. I’m a strong swimmer. The warning. The current, the warning. The dizziness, the warning. The way I read this article about something similar earlier. The way I rode over the bridge. The way I stopped in front of the sign. The way the umbrella flew towards me and some people think attracting luck means that the umbrella will blow past you but once the pointy end hit my chest, I knew it was something else.
Once my throat let out that air, that final air, I saw the first life of the hooded black women. Once my neck lobbed backwards and I now longer cared about the sand on my tongue, I saw myself walking across a lake of ice. As my tongue fell out, I could feel my body press into the bottom of the chair; once inexplicably sturdy, now tilting to the left. Once my lids closed and everything stopped, I knew that luck meant you’re hit, and you’re the legacy now.
“The woman who went to the beach”