I wrote this at the beginning of November 2021, during my first semester at college. In being away from home, the most challenging part was not being able to swim in the ocean or any body of water, something I have long taken for granted. I missed the feeling of being submerged in water and coming back out of it into real life, all cold and recharged. It’s one of my favorite things to experience. I could sit in that feeling forever. I struggled with making a place for myself here in Boston when I felt I hadn’t even tied up the loose ends of my life back home. I admittedly started to resent the unfamiliarity of the city (only briefly). Life felt very blurry all of the time, and sometimes it still does. I always found it hard to take myself seriously in writing, and this was the first personal thing I ever really wrote. But, to keep things short, this felt right to write.
I. I Never Thought I’d Miss the Swim Team
There was no certain emotion that controlled the pool deck, no distinct vision that unified the team. There was no pure motive that all members shared when they walked into the rust-stained, chain-link fenced concrete to dive into the twelve-foot-deep pool of luke-warm, sticky water. There was no concept of teamwork; it was an individual sport, guided by the desires and efforts of only oneself. But there was something about being in the confines of that deck that drove everyone mad, that everyone had a thirst for— the high of swimming, or rather the high of thinking. Whether they asserted it to exercise physically or because they needed to fill an athletic requirement, or because it was expected of their blood, the truth lay beyond the sport and in the water. It was the water that demanded us. It was the water that called for us. It was torturous and self-deprecating; it was the decision to enter an hour of forcing ourselves to dig deep inside our minds with every stroke. It was an excuse to spend the day protesting the water in 55-degree weather to complain about the aches our bodies felt after the thousands of monotonous yards of freestyle and butterfly. But it was an excuse to think long about the past and hard towards the future. To be frustrated in response to our anxieties. To focus on improving ourselves. To think about everything and nothing all at once. And I could always think clearly for the first time since I had last been in the water. My mind was filled with heat and euphoria. Still, my situational understandings and perishable memories were more vivid than at any time since before the fog curtain fell between my eyes and my thoughts. It was cruel and beautiful, severe and indulgent. And we did it to ourselves. I never thought I’d miss the swim team.
II. The Warm, Bright, Shining Pacific Coast
I grew up driving across a 27-mile stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway. Everyone in town
knew what it was like to see the ambition of the surfers waking up at four in the morning
to let the swells engulf them. They understood the passion so many members of the
community held for the water. They would wait to get in the car until six p.m. and make a
left turn out onto the PCH just as the sun was sparkling across the ocean, its light dancing
from one angry driver’s windshield to another as they scurried home from their lavishly
unbothered nine to five.
In these moments, blinded by the warmth and forgiving nature of the six p.m. sun, we
were drawn to the ocean. We would steer to the side of the road, pull back the parking
brake, step out onto the glass-riddled highway, and look out to the sea. And let everything
slip away with each thundering crash of a wave.
It was so magical that it wasn’t real.
With the gold light of the sun streaming across every surface in sight, illuminating the town with a cloak of warmth, it was easier to accept that something was out of place. They were idyllic, unreal moments in time that allowed everything touched by the sun to be exempt from the confrontation our pasts begged us to endure. In these moments, I would grab my opportunity to race into the water, ignoring the sudden chill and harsh wind that would come first to my feet and ankles, then to my torso, until my body lost feeling. But it was in this loss of sensation, the fear and hesitation, and floating into a faraway sea of consciousness and unrealities that let me thrive. It was the cold that woke me up momentarily. I would look at my reflection in the nature-made glass and feel the burn of salt in my mouth. I could feel the sharp wind numbing my face. The water made me come alive
III. A Flooding Mind
I snap out of it briefly. Only enough to remember I am walking in a new, unfamiliar place. From where to where, I couldn’t say. I walk preoccupied with the thoughts that my current realities were once dreams, the goals of my past now accomplished. I walk and consider how much of myself I abused to get to this city. How the turmoil I inflicted and the strains I placed on myself were all to get me here, to this city. And now that I am here, there should be less turmoil and less strain–more freedom, less complacency. And all the while I walk through this city, I still feel my shoulders weighed down by the past.
Now, I walk through this city, and the rain falls into a downpour.
I find myself looking into the pools of rainwater gathered alongside the gum-stained pavement. The deep wells seem to reach towards an infinite nothing into the ground, wells of trust and beauty and pain and fear. Wells of false stories and altered memories. Wells that open their arms towards me tell me I will be safe once I slip into their profound, infinite nothing.
I can tell the tears from the rain only because of the salt I taste slipping into my mouth, only because of the heat, I feel pulsing in my head.
A battered park pigeon that has stood the tests of the city creates ripples in the once untouched glass surface of the well, inserting itself into and disturbing my pure, understanding well. It takes a battered park pigeon to bring me to the reality that my well is a shallow, insignificant puddle of dirtied rainwater. That all that’s there, really, is a reflection. That there is no way for me to snap out of my unrealities, no way for me to distinguish my dreams from real life, no way to slip into the deep unnoticed. At the very least, the pigeon would notice if I tried to because I am in its way of the crumb by my foot. And maybe, it would be happier if I moved, for that matter. So I move on
It’s not landlocked, I know, but it’s not the same either. There are seasons here, and that’s different. There are blocks of time when the whole world is green and blue. And those blocks shift into a world of red, yellow, and orange. But when the colored leaves fall, and the sky is no longer blue, all that is left are the skeletons of what once was and what no longer is. And I could walk by the Charles River and feel the foreboding breeze of what eventually leads to the Atlantic. But when I look into that water’s cold, murky gray, all that I will be reminded of is what once was and what no longer is.
V. Washed Away
Now, the water isn’t there for me to run into; there is no temporary relief. I walk with hesitancy and uncertainty, as though at any point I could be shaken back into reality or disconnected from it, preferring to live in the in-between where confrontation isn’t required. Now the only salt I taste is that of the tears staining my cheeks, hardly distinguishing themselves from the pouring rain. So now, I walk with a pack of Altoids in my raincoat pocket, relying on the harsh peppermint to bring life back into focus until that too eventually disintegrates. Now I walk with no outlet that the water once provided me.
We walk with temporary solutions. It’s out of our control.
I feel myself getting washed away. I hope the tide pulls me back in soon.