Before taking the long drive west, I came to her one last time to visit, to talk, and to tell her I was going. I had a cough and laryngitis, neither of which were troubling, the likely result of ragweed season. I padded my way up the boardwalk, loving the dune grasses and shrubby evergreens and soft sloping sands.
As my head cleared the top of the walkway, suddenly I could see her in all her splendor. She flirted with me, coming closer, then pulling back. She was so confident, my lady, elemental really. She put on no airs, begged no pardon; she simply is. Sometimes stormy, sometimes calm, she can be a lovely playmate, but you should never forget that she is never fully safe.
I set my chair in the sand, set down my bag and simply watched her, breathing deeply of the warm salt air. It’s good to gauge her moods before making a final approach. Sometimes it is best not to engage with her when she’s wild, stormy and clawing at the shore. Anyone who goes to her then could be pulled into the deep.
The Atlantic is a woman, and I am in love. I love her songs, her whispers, even her roars.
This day she was slapping the waves hard in places, loud noises that startled me, moving this way and that. Her sister, the Pacific, tried to drown me years ago, and I have never forgotten the memory of that day. I was remembering that day as I looked out at the Atlantic, thinking that the water was too rough for me, so I sat and watched her frolic for some time.
She enticed me with seafoam chasing along the shore, moving along invisible paths. I approached a float of foam, enchanted by the rainbow shining off the bubbles, which formed and disappeared, growing smaller and smaller as I watched. I had chosen a safe bit, high on the shore, but the foam was soon gone and I followed another pile of seafoam and then another, until my feet were in the silky waters. She lapped around me sweetly, reminding me of other times, other days of sunshine and play.
She called me to come swim, but I didn’t trust her. She can be a trickster, hiding her furies in coyness like a southern belle, all smiles and sweetness with daggers hidden in her words. I stepped deeper. The water was pleasantly cool and the waves, as they reached me had lost their fury, curling around my ankles and caressing my calves. I treaded deeper, mid-calf now, in love with her. A surprise surge slapped me about my hips before pulling back. There was no strong undertow, as I was expecting. Where I was standing the pull was a playful tug, nothing more. The waves further out calmed as she beguiled me. The water effervesced. She was in a spa mood, it seemed.
The red danger flags are posted for a reason, but conditions change, right? And I longed to swim, buoyed by the briny deep…all was calm, the wind warm. I decided that I wouldn’t submerse myself due to the nagging cough. I hate being cautious when adventure awaits, but an adult has to be smart, and I remember crawling to shore in Carlsbad, all but drowned, so many years ago.
So I stayed in the shallows, kicking and playing in the luscious water, the salty smell in my nose. A few of the waves heading toward me were bigger than before, but they calmed right before reaching me and stroked my skin as they splashed me to the waist.
I dipped down and dashed water on my arms and shoulders, careful to avoid my hair. A rogue wave hit me from the side, splashing up and over me, pulling my feet from under me. I got up, spluttering, and laughing, soaked from head to toe. It iwas a fairly gentle shove. Ah, she was in a playful mood now. For the next hour or so we played together, the water warm and soft. I heard her breathing, her exhalations on the shore and then the wide intake of her breath, deep and balmy as she withdraws.
After a time, she had nearly lured me into complacency, but I felt it when she grabbed at my ankles and pulled. She didn’t want me to leave, and I had to decide whether to stay with her permanently or to regretfully leave her behind. She wasn’t quite patient enough and I was still on guard. I felt her greed for me, her longing to pull me to her bosom for a last, wet kiss, and I quickly turned and walked up the beach.
I stood for a long time at the top of the walkway, saying my goodbyes and attempting to burn her sights, her sounds, her smell into my memory, trying not to cry.
That evening, I discovered her final gift to me. By 8 o’clock, my lungs whistled, and sucked, and pulled like the surf. Within a couple of hours, every breath sounded like whale song. By morning, the doctor at Urgent Care had diagnosed me with bronchitis and pneumonia. I’ve had them before, but I’ve never heard breathing sounds like this. My lungs were pulling like a rip tide, and still calling to humpbacks. What I coughed up in the night hours looked suspiciously like a long muscled tentacle, though that could be my imagination.
It’s my final gift from the Atlantic. She doesn’t want me to leave. It’s not that she loves me; I’m not so arrogant as to believe that, it’s more like she’s greedy for her human admirers. I can’t honestly say. But for now, I wish the only whale song I was hearing was on a noise machine or a PBS documentary. And no matter how horrid her parting gift to me, I will always return. Love isn’t rational. It just is.