Monday, August 23, 2010

In An Ocean or A Glass

When I was 7 or 8, my brother tried to convince me that it was OK to drink ocean water.

“Go ahead,” he said. “It tastes just like the water that comes out of the faucet.”

I totally knew better. First, kids are smart so they know these things. And second, growing up in a beachy town, I’d been rumbled enough (big mouth wide open, of course) to have partaken of the Atlantic firsthand. But I really wanted to believe him. Maybe things had recently changed with the ocean, and I hadn’t heard about it. Something so big that you couldn’t see the bottom of had to have magical powers. And isn’t it so industrious—in a fairy tale sense—to think that if you were thirsty and had nothing to drink, you could just take a sip? Or maybe if I just thought really hard, it would become clear and cool and kind, having lost its sharp edges…

But no, it was as salty and gritty as always, and I could now say I’d conducted an official experiment to prove it. Next time I’d know.

That sort of head-in-the-clouds thinking has followed me throughout life. It seems like I missed out on basic common sense, like you shouldn’t stick your pen in an electric socket (thank you so much to whomever stopped me in high school bio), and no matter how much you feel the need to purge and move on, you should not put old letters from a boy you want to forget on a cookie sheet in the oven and turn the knob to “Broil.”

And always check charming coworkers’ left hands before you develop a massive, pull-out-all-the-flirting-stops crush on them.

When I first moved to New York City after college, I worked part time in the scholarly remainders section at Barnes & Noble while I looked for a job (ha ha, would this be the right time to mention my surprise that there weren’t any job listings specifically for philosophy majors in the New York Times classifieds? Yes, I looked under “P” for a couple of weeks until I figured it out.).

Anyway, Neil was all long hair and laidback and British, calling me his “little pie crust.” I was smitten, and was always the first to volunteer to go down to the basement to pick up the books that had been restored and rebound, or whatever it was they did down there. My heart sank the day that a fellow coworker told me, after watching us interact all moony in the elevator, that he was married. “See his wedding ring?” she pointed out, not unkindly.

Errr, no. I had pretty minimal experience with men, and since I only really knew college guys who weren’t married, wedding bands and left hands were just not on my radar. But this was something very important that I was glad I’d learned.

And can we go back to Georgica Beach for just a minute? As I’ve been writing this, another important memory has surfaced—of a young woman I met one night during the summer after high school graduation. “Woman” is not a word for her, though…I’d have to say “lady.” She was married to a local fisherman who’d recently been lost at sea, and our short conversation was, I realize now, bruised deep with her grief and devastation and vulnerability--and sad-earned wisdom from being so young and so intimate with loss.

I liked and connected with her instantly, and at one point she asked me if I was a fairy, too. Yes, she meant a little magical creature. I hadn’t thought about it, but indeed I wanted desperately to be someone magical.

The talk in our tiny town was, of course, that she was just crazy. Our paths never crossed again, but if they were to, I’d tell her this:

I have it on good authority that there’s a realized being who lives at the bottom of the sea. But you probably already know that, and you probably already know her secrets. Here’s to you, my fellow littoral fairy, and anyone else who dances and dreams at the place where the waves end and begin.


  1. Sweet sandy words, sweet melancholy warblings. And talking!

  2. Kate, oh brilliant Ms. Editor, does nothing get by your eye? I love you for noticing that. I'm trying it out in hopes of getting better at it.