After meeting with Alyssa, I decided to take a walk through an unfamiliar neighborhood. Inspected the yards of strangers, admired well-tended gardens and the last remaining Christmas decorations. I soaked up the quiet. The kind of thing you never realize you’re missing until you stumble on it again. How easy it was to hear my own footsteps, my own breath.
The scent of a new fence swept across a lawn. Cedar. That smell is forever tied to the summer my family made baidarkas in a friend’s workshop. I was too young to handle power tools, to build something, so I spent my time running around outside. I’d slide down the muddy embankment to the nearby creek. Then I’d roll my pant legs, wade up out into the water, and get all my clothing soaking wet. Bend over and hang my hands in the water, stay motionless as my fingers and toes grew numb, hoping to catch a fish, a tadpole, anything.
My mother always told me it was impossible to keep me out of water. As soon as I could walk I would run into rivers, the ocean, puddles, everything. She said she’d take me to the beach and walk me out into the ocean. We’d go until the waves lapped up around my neck and my lips turned blue. Then she’d drag me to shore again.
It was the fourth of July and I was twenty-two the last time I went swimming in Washington. Must have been close to midnight. I stood on a rocky beach, pressing up against the edges of Puget Sound. Over a weekend camping trip the six of us had made fast-friends with another five. All eleven circled up around a fire on lawn-chairs, large rocks, driftwood, and towels on the sparse patches of sand. If you got more than a few feet away you’d feel the chill rolling in off the water. A warm night on the beach does not exist in this part of the country.
I stood up and slide off my shoes and socks. Removed my scarf, my coat, my sweatshirt. My jeans, my t-shirt, my undergarments. And I waded out into the sound. Up to my knees, up to my waist. Then I just dove in. Swam out far enough to lose the sounds of my friends hollering on the beach. Out far enough for the fire’s light to leave me. I floated on my back, staring at the stars and shivering. Ears resting low in the water, allowing me to hear only my breathing and my heartbeat. The involuntary reminders of existence.
No one to pull me out, to haul me back in. An intentional and purposeful isolation. Far out from the shore I wept into the gentle waves. Pining for the solitude of abandonment to feel as serene as the infinite emptiness that is floating in the water alone.