I first saw the Atlantic Ocean as a seven-year old child. My parents warned us about the undertow but it wasn’t until I saw my three-year old sister being dragged out to sea that I began to understand its fathomless mesmerizing power. After my father rescued my sister all of us children went back to the beach to huddle under towels. Snacks were handed out by my mother, the fresh water I drank mingled with the salt of the sea. I licked my saline soaked lips marveling at how the water I was drinking had changed. Twenty-one years later I had an opportunity to visit the Pacific Ocean. One of my aunts is an English professor, she was going to attend a Literature conference out in Long Beach, California. We invited my grandparents along and after an uneventful flight we picked up our rental car. Driving in a seven-lane sea of commuter traffic reminded me that dry land could be just as dangerous as the sea. Traffic streamed past us like deadly tropical fish surround their prey. After supper I walked from our hotel to the beach, it was cold so when someone offered me a sweatshirt I smiled gratefully.
Kissing a surfer whose lips are wet from the untamed deep makes you just as crazy as the unlucky people who drank salt water to survive. For miles and miles all we could see was the empty stretch of beach. California is a strange mixture of industry, agriculture, urban sprawl and vast ribbons of white sandy beaches. The surfer boy walked me back to the hotel just before midnight. Two days later I was drinking Corona with lime at Joe’s Crab Shack listening to my aunt talking about famous authors from Huntington Beach. I finished my Corona, drove back to the hotel and told everyone I was going for a walk. I went down to the beach hoping to meet up with the surfer and his friends. My trip wasn't going well. I remember feeling lost and lonely. That night I wanted to be at home. Home was all I could think about. I walked down the promenade towards the pier. A tiny group of sailboats was nestled together. The shops off to my left grew smaller as I walked and when I reached the ocean’s edge I started crying. The surfer never showed, I waved to the boats on my way back to my hotel room to get what sleep I could from the night.
Several days later I met up with the guys I had hung out with earlier. I had my camera with me so I took some pictures of them. They introduced themselves to my aunt and grandparents, we chatted for a while on the beach before it was time to go. My aunt took a picture of me standing with the surfers. One of them smiled crookedly as he handed me the shirt he had been wearing. I used that opportunity to hug the guy who had shared his sweatshirt with me the first night I was in California. My aunt told me I could meet up with her and my grandparents later. She gave me a knowing look before taking my grandmother's arm. He kissed me lightly at first, the kiss grew, he broke it off, ran to the ocean and came back with a little white shell. I tucked it in my pocket along with his phone number. His mouth wasn’t cool and salty like his lips were. Seawater flavored our goodbye kiss, I gave him one last hug before we went back to meet up with his friends. Hours later I flew back to Wisconsin with the rest of my family but every once in a while I see the shell sitting on my bookcase and I wonder what it would be like to eat the salt off of his lost faded lips.
Thanks to maxClimb for editorial assistance 11/04/08.