You Can’t Live In My Ocean
Years ago, we walked on the land. The land was all. Now the land is nothing and the ocean is all.
Change happens in circles.
I love breathing the salt. It’s crisp and tart and keeps me alert. I swim for miles and days until finally, I float.
Each of us lives in an ocean. Sometimes our oceans connect. Sometimes I see a fellow human in the distance, arms pinwheeling, water churning behind them. When this happens, I turn and swim the other way.
We were social creatures once.
My mother loved me for twenty-two hours before tucking me into a coral reef and swimming away. Twenty-two hours to get all the care in the world. I survive and thrive alone, which is a testament to her good parenting.
Whenever I am lonely, I call up a memory of that first day of life. The precision of that memory is all I will ever need.
In the old days, relationships were a muddy tangle of interactions. Life in the ocean distills them to their barest essence and their most perfect form: Parent, love, care, gone.
I had a lover once. She wanderstreamed into my ocean by accident, caught a current that led her to me. I was floating, daydreaming, and by the time I saw her, she was closer than any human had come to me since I was very young. She had wiry shoulders and slow-blinking green eyes and hair that undulated in silver wisps. I was utterly entranced. We clung to each other, turning hypnotically in the current, and the salt on each other’s bodies stung and aroused us. I touched and kissed every inch of her body — the forgotten inches: the backs of the knees, the webbing between the toes, each strand of silver hair. She caressed and kissed me with the same care. We spun in the current as light filtered through the sea.
Afterward, she wanted to live with me in my ocean. I said no. I knew there was no point in delaying the inevitable loss of companionship. When she lingered, I bared my teeth and chased her until she disappeared.
Beauty, love, sex, gone.
A perfect lover.
Webbing. Teeth that can skin a dolphin. Fluttering gills that can turn water into life.
Of course these features are strange. Earlobes are strange. Knuckles are strange. Eyeballs are strange. Anything alive is strange.
We evolve until we become strangers to ourselves. We evolve until we forget to mourn the loss of what we were.
I only call it breathing out of habit.
We were water creatures and then we were land creatures and now we are water creatures again. We have become what we were.
To regress is to shed what is extraneous. To regress is to come home.
The water goes on forever. The world is overlapping oceans punctuated by tiny pinpricks of land. Now and then I venture onto an island, a stubborn sprawl of rock that refused to sink, but standing upright makes me nauseous. It seems pointless. The water is warm and the land is cold. The water is alive and the land is dead.
Where once was scarcity, now there is abundance. There is an ocean for everyone, so many millions of oceans that we can multiply and occupy without interacting. There is no shortage of seabirds to snap out of the sky, no shortage of fluttering minnows or listless kelp to harvest. Our needs are few and they are met.
Our. We. I should not think in we. I should not still have a word for we.
Evolution is sporadic and imperfect. The old things linger. The evocative lilting of words with lost meanings: together, community, family. A persistent wondering about the lives of others. A wish for a lover to stay.
I see you swimming the perimeter of my ocean under a chill white sky. I don’t know how long you’ve been there, following the edge of my world. You respect the invisible boundary, though part of me longs for you to violate it. Occasionally I swim parallel, our strokes now in tandem, now at odds. Your splashes are insistent, demanding attention. They strike me as friendly, lonely, accusatory, and I catch myself believing there is something between us until I remember that the human mind has created relationships out of nothing for centuries.
I am alone. Every emotion I sense from you belongs only to me. If we ever swim in tandem, it is accidental.
I have my ocean and you have yours, but between them there is an island, a thin strip of land that rises out of the water like the spine of some ancient dinosaur. From my side of the island, I see you clinging to the outcropping. The waves buffet you against the coastline and your face screws up, your eyes closed as if in deep concentration. What are you holding on to? What do you see?
I should keep moving. Instead I linger, fighting the current to watch you cling to the rock. I inch closer, overcome with longing for something I do not understand and cannot name.
Before I was born, my mother lent me an ocean. I hung suspended, kicking with effort to move not much at all, always alone and never alone. The ocean soaked me and sustained me, its waves muffling the sound of voices and the watery rhythm of my mother’s heart. There was nowhere to go outside of my ocean. Or so I believed.
Wind whips across the island. I shiver, crawling, hands scraping against rocks. My skin burns from the dry cold of open air.
I am leaving my ocean, leaving my place of safety, inching toward the border that separates us. The water beckons, but I keep crawling forward, blinded and dehydrated, groping for something unknown.
My hand closes over yours as I collapse. Together we cling to the land.
about the author