I have been thinking about the small ocean town my brother retreated to when he was broken in body and soul. Somewhere along the Alabama coast…I never knew where exactly because he never wanted me to find him. Thinking about him and his beach town led like a treasure map he had bequeathed me all the way back to our grandmother’s summer home on the coast in Plymouth, where she kept us safe from the storm that was our mother and the sorrow that was our father’s death. That tiny town left its mark on us like a branding iron.
I grew up on the east coast close to the sea. When I moved west I settled in Santa Cruz in what was then a pretty quiet part of town, in a bungalow so much like my grandmother’s it was uncanny.
When my husband and I travel, no matter where we go -Hawaii, Australia, Florida, I find a small beach town where I can take off my shoes, hang up my hat and say Home.
Walking out into the morning coastal fog, a grey curtain parts and I enter a secret room of hushed sounds and black winged birds. At night the deep voice of the foghorn croons welcome back welcome back. At dusk the concrete gives up the daytime heat and I walk barefoot, a child again and always as I follow the four note song of the ice cream truck; seagulls wheel overhead so insistent, so impatient, squawking, diving for scraps before nightfall.
It’s the salt air that scrubs away regret, that lays itself softly on the skin like a benediction.
And did you think I had forgotten the ocean? she who opens her arms to me, pulls me in for a hug, the ocean who is so welcoming and so warm.
Why are you crying she asks
Because I missed you I weep.
I weep every time I enter the ocean no matter which coast or continent. It’s the same beach town where I grew up with my grandmother who was my safe place, who took me by the hand and walked me into the cold water when I was so small and said, we’re Russian. This will make you strong. And it did, and it does. Every time I enter the water I weep for the ancient ones, the lost ones, my brother hiding out from his demons, my mother who hated the beach but would sit under an umbrella with a gin and tonic and oh sweet god my father the fisherman who loved the sea more than life itself who would have could have should have lived longer if we had moved to Florida but that is a story for another time.
I weep every time I enter the sea and she holds me while I cry. Salt to salt.
It’s okay, she says. Open up. Look. They’re all here. Swim out to meet them.