DRAW OF WAVES is a continuation of the Body of Water project, and a collaboration with Maggie Umber, who created the artwork. I became aware of Maggie’s work through the sharing of her amazing art on social media, and her imaginative graphic novels, most especially the recently published Sound of Snow Falling. She’s an extremely talented artist and I’m honored to be getting the opportunity to experiment and further the exploration of water with this collaboration.
Part 1 of 5
You sense them in the air before you hear anything.
You hear the rumble before you see a single crash.
And when your eyes do set upon the water, all the smells and sounds take over and are compounded in the sight of the endless blue before you.
Your body is already connected to the distant roll of the waters, the inward flow of the curls, the stopping of time that happens in the space between reaching the apex and the inevitable crash.
If you haven’t seen the sea for a while, it’s as if you were there just moments ago. And if you were just there, it’s as if it was so long ago and at last you are here again.
Maybe you close your eyes and take a deep breath, the rolling of the sea and the rise and fall of your chest coming together as one.
Perhaps you race towards the waves and then turn away at the last moment to outrun the sea’s final reach, until it overtakes you. With purpose. On purpose.
Or you just start slowly walking towards the water, reaching out to take a hand, whether anyone is there with you or not.
Eventually, you get to where the endless waves meet their fiery, momentary ends.
The water is there. You are there. Another wave forms in the faraway distance.
MELDING INTO THE MOVING CALM
Part 2 of 5
The table is set. There is still much work to be done in the kitchen, but the plates have been placed, the silverware arranged, the glasses spotless and awaiting their fill. The guests will be here soon enough. You have to assume someone will arrive early, but most everyone else will show up late.
Earlier in the cafe, we were both on our phones. I asked you what you were looking at, and you said nothing. When the food came, I realized I had forgotten to order a side of toast. The meal seemed incomplete, but I left it at that. A woman a few tables over was telling a story. The man she was with was listening intently. I could see the heat rise from his coffee, until it stopped. Finally, he took a sip. Surely it was luke warm by then.
There were many potatoes to peel. I had set them in the sink, and run water over them. No matter how many times you scrub the skin of a potato, there is always more dirt to wash away. They felt firm in my hands, heavy. Why must the potatoes be peeled? There must be nutrients in the skin that we would all be better served, in the long run, if I just commenced with the cooking as is — the way they were pulled from the earth. I always make this excuse when there is a sink full of potatoes that need to be peeled.
I didn’t have time for a run, but I went on one anyway. It was too beautiful out. The brittle crisp Fall weather had finally arrived. The leaves had begun turning when they should have, but the summer’s heat would just not die down. Such are the seasons now. In due time, the trees will lose their way. But not in this hour. A strong wind is creating a flurry of activity from on high, twisting, turning, and shaking loose the leaves left in the trees. The sun glints every which way off of each leaf, and the golden hues of the moment slipping away burns just that much brighter.
She was in the shower when I got home. Every window in the apartment was steamed. Still, the water kept flowing. The music had stopped, but she was still singing.
The kitchen is a mess, but everything is in its place — pots on the stove, dishes in the sink, potato skins on the floor, a cup of coffee poured but never drunk except for that first sip when it was too hot and my tongue was singed. There is time to wash the knives and pour a glass of ice cold water. I took a sip from the glass, and then you did, and then I drank the whole thing down.
I told myself to remember this, and I did — this moment is proof: in the water when I was swimming a little further out than I should have been, just before I thought to take stock of where I really was and how I should be moving closer to shore, I melded into the moving calm. I flipped onto my back and gave in to the drift, and I could hear the echoing boom of my heartbeat against breaths as deep as the endless bright blues all around me.
The doorbell rings. The water is boiling. The main component of the meal is in the oven, which I know well, so do not need to take even one peek. Still, you never know for sure until you open the door. All in its own time, which it is, was before, and will be soon enough, at any given exact moment.
GLIDING AWAY FROM THE FAMILIAR HAUNTS OF THE LIVES WE HAD BUILT
Part 3 of 5
We waited until the last minute.
That wasn’t the plan, of course. It certainly didn’t seem like there’d be too much to do as our departure date closed in on us, given all that we had been up to over the previous weeks.
There were the runs to Goodwill, dumping off bags of clothes and plates and empty picture frames. We mailed off boxes to our families, to be grudgingly stored in their respective garages. We put our furniture out in front of the building with signs that read, “Free, Take Me.”
We had a farewell party. All of our friends came over, and we said sad goodbyes after drinking too much. The next day, we were too tired to clean up. Instead, we went out to brunch, and then came home and fell back asleep until it was time for dinner, at which point we ordered a pizza and zoned out in front of the television. The place was even more of a mess, indicative of our overall situation.
The last night before our early morning one-way departure was the longest. There was still so much stuff to deal with. We ended up throwing it all out. After a final vacuum of the apartment, I tossed the whole contraption into the dumpster, which was overflowing and no longer able to close.
Our good friend, who kindly agreed to let us crash at his place and take us to the airport at the crack of dawn, picked us up and we loaded four bags and two cats in carriers into his compact car. We both jammed ourselves into the front seat, one of the cat carriers being squashed by our four twisted feet. The cat howled all the way to our friend’s apartment. It was under the weight of these echoes that I stared out at the darkened empty streets of a city that I hadn’t expected to leave and wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to.
Every turn of the wheels lifted us higher, a thrilling swell of our own making. What started as the wishful mailing off of an application led to a surprising offer and a decision to collapse an old life and build one anew in a faraway place where we had never been to before and knew no one. We latched on to the rising unknown of this scenario, belongings discarded but baggage in tow, and were now at the precipice. We sat together in that passenger seat, entangled and unable to move, but gliding forward and away from the familiar haunts of the lives we had built.
We got to his place, and promptly crashed, because we were exhausted by the flurry of the scramble to depart, and the fact that we were only going to get a few hours of restless sleep. The setting of an early alarm always wreaks havoc on a good night of shut-eye and sets the stage for anxiety ridden dreams that rattle bones from the past and amplify nervousness about crucial future happenings that may or may not come to pass.
The sun was just piercing a darkness not quite ready to cave when our bleary eyes looked into each other’s. The unfolding of plans that had been laid were now exposed, fully and completely, and we exchanged a look of two people about to grab hands and jump off a ledge.
There was no turning back. It was time to go.
THE CHAOTIC UNKNOWN BETWEEN PRECIPICE AND FALLOUT
Part 4 of 5
Remembering a time of upheaval brings back fragmented memories of the days before, loose threads that seem to float the expanse of your particular time and space, occasionally lit up by the glow of the moon and glimpsed in a brief moment of wakefulness in the middle of the night.
I drove from there to home, and home to there, so many times it seemed to qualify as endless. Always a straight-through drive, stopping only for coffee or gas or terrible food from one of the fast food chains. Landmarks passed were just markers of time left on the road. Occasionally there was traffic, but usually there wasn’t. I came to appreciate the oldies even more than I already did. I listened to talk radio to stay awake. I considered the experience forgettable before it even happened.
Whichever way I was going, I just wanted to get there.
This one time, though, I took a different route. A more-winding of a road, one that would add hours to the journey. I wanted to see the sea.
It took long enough along this unexpected path with no glimpse of any waters to start doubting the entire enterprise. Turning back didn’t make any sense, but the thought of doing so kept looping itself into my thoughts, which grew more dispirited as the miles wore on. A sleepy heaviness began to drag on my frown yanked eyelids, so I decided to crack the window, despite the freezing cold winds and ominous clouds spilling forth a hard rain.
And there it was, just in time, the unmistakable salty crisp scent of the ocean in the air. I kicked myself one more time for bemoaning what was clearly the right decision — to make this detour — and then rolled the window all the way down, breathing it all in, rain and wind be damned.
Moments later I got my first peek at the ocean, and with it, further relief, as if finally finding a lost letter, one that had been hidden away for safekeeping so well that its location had been forgotten. Closer, closer it came, until finally I could just pull over and be right there at the water
I got out of the car and was greeted by the stormy weather. Standing perfectly still at the edge, getting soaked to the bone, I watched the waves thrash into each other and launch themselves into the air, streaks of lightning in the distance illuminating the wind-whipped clouds above.
I saw myself unraveling in the crest — lifted and in free fall, futilely reaching back for what was, eyes searching upward for that which has yet to unfold. I knew it was time to leave, and I had conjured the place I wanted to end up. No moves had been made in any direction, but the way forward was clear. Still, when lost at sea, you know where you came from, and you know where you want to go, but there you are, rising and falling and being pulled under by forces beyond your control. This, I understood, too.
I got back in the car, shook the water from my hair, and dried my face. Pounding rain on the windshield gave my whole view on the darkened skies and roiling waters the look of a painting spilling itself onto eyes that had broken under the weight of staring into the distance for far too long.
Sitting there, I knew. Nothing was for sure, except that things were about to change. I was where I was, heading to a familiar place, but was unmistakably releasing myself into the thrilling chaos of the unknown next. I started up the car, flipped on the windshield wipers, and hit the rain-slicked road. The ocean was beside me for miles, eventually disappearing into the rear view mirror.
The waves never left me.
REACHING FOR BREATH IN THE CEASELESSNESS OF WAVES
Part 5 of 5
The room is dark.
Lying there for hours after spending hours in another dark room. Hours and days and weeks, shifting from this sitting position to that sitting position, a futile, frenzied nowhere spin of exhaustion that makes the closing of eyes seem an impossible task. But they’re already closed. There is no difference to what you have seen. So much just sitting there and not being able to do a damn thing about any of it.
I only know sleep finally came because I was awakened by a hand on my shoulder, a touch that told me everything I needed to know in every part of my being except the one that could form a reply. I turned to eyes filled with tears, which reflected back my own, a mirage of a body of water that had long ago dried away but was still somehow finding a way to flow.
All at once, breaking through the white noise that is the corner-of-the-eye doppelganger of an eerie silence there is the crushing rumble of everything that surrounds your entire body, erasing the sky and pulling out from under you an imaginary grounding, and you are spun into the confusion of not knowing which way is up, which way is down.
For the briefest of moments amidst the panic, you are familiar and calm with this furiously reverberating darkness. And in the twist and the turn you find a stillness, reacting instinctively to the beating thump of the otherworldly quiet.
But you are not at home.
If everything truly is everything, then it includes nothingness. But with nothing, all is lost. Trip into this paradox, and you are boxed in forever. There is no solution.
Of course it was always there, where you’ve always been.
Each step is a collapse. There is nothing to grab hold of, so you hold on so tight that you are one, or no longer there at all, both at the same time. Everywhere. Nowhere. Everything. Nothing. Standing still feels like you are running. Running feels like you are standing still. I cannot hear you. I hear everything you are saying and I will never forget it. Because I didn’t.
And yet, there is light, which you sense more than you see, because it may not even be there, in the hazy distance of so far away, yet so close you can reach out and touch its glow.
A hard kick and thrust of arms, against your will, with everything that you’ve got.
Break the surface, breathe.
The surrounding, echoing roar and your exhale are one.
Open your eyes.
See the endless blue, above, beyond, below.
Breathe. Again. Again.
You in the endless blue, above, beyond, below.
Everything. Nothing. Everything.
Another wave forms in the distance.