I first saw the ocean when I was just barely five, mere days before I started kindergarten. I was raised far, far inland and though we were frequently to be found near, in and on lakes even at that young age, they were still relatively quiet, peaceful places.
The ocean rocked me.
Emotionally, the ocean was a thing of great beauty and utter fascination. It drew me, called to me. I heard it before I saw it, and tugged on Dad’s arm from blocks away to ask. “What’s that noise?” I said again and again.
He responded, “What noise?”
I know now that he didn’t hear it. I did though. I heard it in the back of my head, as though it was a beacon calling to me. My great-aunt and great-uncle had a pool enclosed by a great screened-in structure that shielded playtime from the sun and let us swim at night, but I wanted to see that noise. I needed to hear it more clearly. They lived in a neighborhood mere blocks from the water, so eventually my dad and I walked along the strange sidewalks to see the short, rocky steep coast. There was no beach, so the waves beat against the rocks that climbed up to the sidewalk. A guardrail just tall enough to keep children like me from rushing down onto the boulders separated that seawall from the street.
Beyond the surf, the water stretched forever. I’d seen big lakes before, or what I’d thought were big lakes, but this was almost unfathomable to me. As little as I remember about the first day of school, I remember vividly this first sight and smell of the ocean. I asked a million questions about the waves, trying to understand what sort of enormous boat would create a wake of waves that went on and on. Dad explained about weather systems and how rain made the waves choppy. Looking back I think I’m grateful he didn’t try to explain the effects of the moon’s gravity on the tides – it would have been too much. Too much unbelievable, too much magic. In the sweltering heat of the hot Florida days and the chlorine of the swimming pool, I hadn’t noticed the aroma of the ocean water – at least not until I stood there on the sidewalk and simply breathed in the ocean.
Together we stood and stared under the hot August sun. It was his first sight of the ocean, too, you see.
Eventually, we left my great-aunt and great-uncle and headed south along the Gulf coast of Florida, staying in a place near a proper beach. Physically the ocean threw me into the surf, pulled me into its water and tossed me back out again, as though it were in itself a playmate I could befriend. Dad, over and over, would have to pick me up and toss buckets of water at me to wash off the caked sand. My nose and throat burned from the overexposure. Repeated applications of sunscreen couldn’t stop the sparkling ocean water from attracting the sun’s increasingly dangerous rays.
My brother swallowed one mouthful of salt water and ran up the sand crying to our mother. He refused to have anything to do with this terrifying, smelly reality called ocean and preferred the safety of the sand. (He now scuba dives in it, so no worries!)
I, on the other hand, couldn’t get enough. The ocean was alive. It breathed. It danced. It loved the earth with its nurturing massage and it permeated my senses until I exulted in it, eventually exhausted and sated and happy enough to sleep without dreams or memory.
“All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea – whether it is to sail or to watch it – we are going back from whence we came.” – John F. Kennedy
These days I am more accustomed to experiencing satiation with sex than with ocean. The principle, I think, is much the same as my first experience with the ocean. It tempts me. The hinting promise of it, in the back of my mind, followed by the foreplay tease where I wait, smell, anticipate listen and finally touch, until the hunger wells up inside of me and begs to be indulged.
Indulgence is a greedy, wanting thing that wells up. More. More, please. My body says it. My mind begs for it. My mouth pleads, eventually. I hold out as long as possible to prolong the pleasure, not wanting to reach the point of satiation – because satiation means that it is over for another day and I do not want it to end. I’m reaching for human contact – for intimate contact - with someone who is so much a part of me that I feel separated from him when I am long denied the restorative elixir of intimacy.
I am bound to another as I am tied to the ocean. He is my blood, in my tears, in the salt of my sweat. And he lets me live near the sea.