Monday, December 12, 2011

599. Ocean at Night

I want to tell you about California, where I more or less grew up. I was born there, then my parents divorced and I moved with my mom and step-dad to Pennsylvania and later Alabama. But California was in my veins, like radioactive sugar—sweet and warm and pulsing. California beckoned to me, and it’s where I eventually ended up for high school and college.

From kindergarten through 8th grade though, I went back to visit every summer because that’s where my dad lived. My grandparents lived in another part of the state, and I would stay with them alternately. Disneyland played a starring role in my summers, as did Sea World and the zoo, where the theme song of It’s A Small World or the Sparkletts-Sponsored Fountain Light Show would temporarily erase the fact that I was away from my father more than I was with him. We all pretended this was normal, living thousands of miles from half of your identity, and I suppose this was normal for many children of the 1970’s. It’s something I regret: divorce.

I always swore I myself would never divorce. I keep my promise.

Several of my friends have divorced. I feel my heart breaking into shards at the pain they must feel, shattered vows. Sometimes one person in the relationship makes the decision about which restaurant or which movie or which house; sometimes one person in a marriage decides that it is over without ever really consulting the other person.

I waited until I was 31 to get married, to avoid the pitfalls of “marrying too young.” Mostly I avoided the pitfall of not knowing who I was in my 20’s.

The Husband and I hold hands. That will never be us, we whisper. We keep our promise.

I look back at my childhood, at the girl on the spinning teacups at Disneyland. My life felt like that sometimes: dizzy.

The Husband and I try hard every day to give our sons a happy and stable life. We made vows once for an hour over a decade ago in front of God and friends and family, but we keep the vows every minute of every day: 'til death do us part.

I miss California. We got married there, in a beautiful chapel in a historic L.A. hotel. I see it in my mind, clear as this morning. We honeymooned in Hawaii. A stereotype.

I miss the ocean. I miss the calm I felt, listening to the waves pounding down, inhaling the salty mist like a necessity, and feeling the dampness of the air as it clung to my hungry skin. I loved the way the ocean looked at different times of day: clear, bumpy, dark, luminescent. But mostly I loved the way the ocean looked at night. Ethereal.

The Husband and I lived across the street from the beach, and we could hear it as our background soundtrack, woosh-woosh-woosh. Listening to it, I could feel the clutter of my mind dissipating.  At night, not every night but often enough, we would walk down there to see the blackness, it was like walking into the solar system, suspended by stars and air. So black.

You knew it was there, but you couldn’t see it, yet it went on forever. You could imagine the cold of it, how icy it would feel on your skin. We never swam at night.

I miss the silent energy of the Pacific Ocean. But mostly I miss the me I was in California. She’s still in there, deep inside me. I catch glimpses of her every once in a while under the icy black night.



  1. Oh, MOV. That was really wonderful.

  2. I'm not really sure what to say.

    So I'll e-mail you a link to a picture of me holding a Harris Hawk on Saturday.


    -Motaki, Aspiring Falconer

  3. Me, I married when I was like 11, okay maybe 20. Next year we'll be trading wedded spit for 30 years. :)

  4. Reading this was like hearing a peaceful song in a world of crazy that is pre-Christmas. Thank you for this moment.

  5. I'm not sure what to say. Touching, smart, thoughtful. Life is a series of changes. Adapting to them is the challenge and the prize.

  6. You are a great descriptive writer. I spent part of my childhood on the Gulf Coast in Alabama--I hated the beach in the daytime (being mostly Irish and German, sun = bad), but I, too, loved it at night. And I could not have put it into words any better myself.

  7. Ah yes I love the sea, only our sea The North Sea is a wild and dark brooding monster at times, I have sailed across it many many times. Once in a force twelve listening to the screaming of the steel hull as it was pounded by driving waves and swell, wind, snow and the bitter cool of winter.

    Which makes it all the more poignant that I have discovered just today that my favourite jumpers and I have parted company during the chaos of house moving. The pain the tragedy and the cool nights.

    I am now doomed to the shabby jumpers, how come that always happens the shabby ones make it, the posh ones end in land fill. Something to remember in life ......

  8. We keep our promise every day here as well It's what will keep the California girl going. Nice post MOV.

  9. MOV - This was such a change from your usual posts but it was so wonderfully written and really connected with it. Thank you.

  10. to all-- I really enjoyed writing this. Enjoyed your wonderful positive feedback even more. Keep reading........



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