The ocean beckons. It speaks softly and loudly. It breaks in rhythmic cadence. All day, all year, its rhythm never changing. As it speaks softly to me, it’s sound tickles my memory. The beach, a place of solace. The beach, a place of warmth. The beach, memories profound.
Coney Island. Loud. Happy. Hot sand. My dad but never my mother. A black and white photo of my brother tormenting me with hot sand. A look of pain on my face. The carousel and catching the golden ring. Knishes! Hot Knishes! Ice cream. Nathan’s hot dog and amazing crinkle fries, NO Ketchup. Cotton candy. George C. Tilyou’s Steeplechase Park. The parachute jump. Skee ball! Each crash of the wave sparks another memory.
My childhood seemed happy. And it was. My parents seemed happily married. Likely they weren’t but they made commitments and stuck to them no matter what. There was no other way. Too much social pressure to even consider anything else. The unwanted child who arrived was made room for and accommodated.
In the stillness at the beach I experience another memory. The little girl who was not happy. The little girl aware she was unwanted. The little girl who carried shame for which she had no words. The girl who was broken inside. The girl whose world was marred by a middle-aged man in her neighborhood.
At 8 years old, and at 9, and at 10, and 11, and 12, when this little girl would go the beach, she would walk to the waters edge. The waves would erode the sand around her feet. Her feet would sway and at times she would lose her balance and stumble. Then she’d think, I wish I didn’t know how to swim. Her daddy had held her above the water until she learned to trust the water and swim.
If only, if only she didn’t know how to swim. How easy it would be to walk into the water. To let the water surround her like a blanket and then like a pillow over her head, the waves would take her. They would take her away from her pain. They would take her away from her shame. Perhaps they would even take her to heaven. This little girl wondered who would cry when she was gone.
Then she’d try. One step after another, deeper in the water. It was now over her head. Sometimes she’d try to breathe the water in. Spit, spatter, gasp – she’d always come back up. The waves had also rejected her.
As she got older, her thoughts would devise other plans. Plans for relief. Plans for the end of the internal anguish her little soul suffered. And yet, she never understood why. Buried deep below was a piercing wound that would not be healed.
As I look out the fourth-floor balcony at the crashing waves and remember, I look down. Another memory. The older girl and woman who would assess a pinnacle by two criteria. If she fell, would she just get hurt or paralyzed. Or is this height enough. Would she die? Fourth story is not enough she reasoned.
She wasn’t serious today but many days she was. At 13, 14, and 15, the roof in Brooklyn would call her name. Asphalt sunbathing would turn into thoughts of falling – or jumping. As she looked over the edge, fearing a life of paralysis she never gave in to these impulses.
The wound has largely healed but its scars still call out to her through the crashing waves. It is pain that will endure. The insecurities and anxiety still come. But the waves restore my soul and let me breathe deeply reminding me that I survived.