Saline (pt. X)

The first time I dropped in on a wave, really dropped in, I finally knew what it felt like to be in my rightful place in the world. The timing, paddling, pop-up, and steering had culminated into that ever-desired perfect glide. For a few seconds, I spread royal wings and flew. For a few seconds, the sky rolled back to show how it was made of something as beautiful as an abalone shell.

* *

The painting is titled “Theology,” I said. One hundred eyes passed over the piece, consuming its wild blue spilling and plunging. Now they awaited my defense and explanation. 

The correlation is simple, this idea of Sublimity in the character of God; One experienced as powerful, infinite, mighty, and ultimate. Yet when we experience this, we are somehow allowed to live, often leaving full of something like love or respect. The same experience is manifest when I am in the ocean, delighting in its power without it killing me–hence the “theology” of the crashing wave.

* *

It is an important moment in life when you realize that the calmest part of the ocean is the water directly beneath the wave. It is like finally realizing that to dance in the arms of another person, you have to stop struggling to lead your way. It is a moment of enlightenment in which you realize to keep from drowning, you must go underwater. No matter how the white water roars, if you duck below the plummets of the break, there you will find peace. Finally, you must learn to listen to the sea, for it will tell you when it’s safe to return to breathing again.

* *

Noah arrived by my side and with his classic bemused half-grin and complimentary fist-pound. Kick-ass were his first words. Others had offered similar congratulations. But he followed to say something more striking in clarity. Good job capturing the calm water right under the wave. A lot of people forget that part, he said. I looked back at the painting. The effect had been unintentional, but now that he pointed it out, I saw it. And I realized it was something I had known about all along. 

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Saline (pt. IX)

There was a lull in the swell.

Look! Dolphins. I lifted my hand dripping with saltwater to point out the dorsal fin tips peeking out of the watery blanket, not many yards from where Jordan and I drifted.

My brother is an extrovert. He laid belly-down on his surfboard and started paddling toward the grey-skinned mammals. I began to follow. There was an exciting fearful tension of wanting to get close and stay far away at the same time. I am an introvert. 

We paddled close enough to hear the sputtering sound of blowhole exhalations. I wondered if they could sense us, what they regarded of Jordan and I. wondered what their underwater world looked like. I regarded them as creature cousins, physically categorized as cetaceans, yet connected to us by a mix of sibling DNA and spirit capacity. 

The scene made me think of a book I had read when I was young, Island of the Blue Dolphins. I barely remember much about it except that there was a tribal girl left to fend for herself on an island, and a lot of imagery of sun-bleached whale bones. 

The dolphin brothers seemed unthreatened by our presence. Their smooth grey backs passed by us calmly, the same way the humpback whale swam by my uncle’s boat when we were giving my grandpa’s dust back to the sea. The way he said goodbye with his whale tail waving in the sky, slowly, nonchalantly.

* *

Is coming up for air by works or by faith? I was baptized by my own volition in the ocean. An overcast day off of Santa Cruz. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They said getting baptized was like dying and coming back to life. I wonder if it is regarded as literal by some people, similar to the Catholic Transubstantiation. It makes me wish Pastor Chad would have held me under longer so I could remember what dying felt like. Seems that I have been baptized many times since then, with the countless times of getting tossed by rough close-outs, under and back up again, like a soggy ragdoll. That’s when I really knew what resurrection felt like, when I could come back up to breathe again. But maybe that’s by works, not faith, so it wasn’t supposed to count?

Is coming up for air by works or by faith? Someone had asked the same question to Dr. Culp during his lecture. 

Well, technically, breathing itself is αργος, so what do you think? he said, smiling.

* *

Tonight was the night, and the painting was dry just in time. It was carried by four arms and four legs into the meeting hall, to the back wall, in preparation for the exhibition.

Saline (pt. VIII)

I was beginning to learn that some of the best times for surfing are when the sun has not been awake for long or when it’s not out at all. It was similar to the way I was beginning to learn that happiness is not a virtue. The waves are calmer in the morning, and they’re more smooth in a balmy winter fog, and they’re twice as magical as the climax of sunset is chased away by the moonlit twilight. 

This realization began when my dad and I were out in a sunless yet strangely warm tide. We were trying to feel alive while Grandpa John was dying in his bed back in the Beach House. A family of seals passed by, eyeing us, but not severely intrigued. Just swimming. We might have been trying to escape, but as we bobbed in the middle of a placid, engulfing mist, it seemed to wrap us up and tell us Stay, that the world had some peace in it worth living for. 

* *

We are not unlike ocean waves; each one is unique with varying tenacity, temperature, angle, and undertow. Each has a lifespan: a force beyond itself births its initial movement, it begins to swell, reaching its climax as it crests, turns to break in its fully-formed grandeur, closes upon itself, and finally disperses at the end of its course. Ultimately giving way for the next life cycle.

* *

Some days, I wondered if my balance and my arms would ever be strong enough. Willing, but weak. Willing, but a thorn ever in the flesh. 

A professor once told me that he believed he spent so many years in agonizing states of occupation to prepare himself for the handful of semesters he was finally able to teach the lessons he loved to students that he truly loved. 

* *

I had to keep This isn’t what it’ll look like, shutup until I’m finished clenched behind my teeth as passersby behind my back made their impressed remarks. I watched the sun and then the moon pass through the windows, favorite DVDs and mix CDs assisting the progression of time. When I stood up straight to wash my hands and brushes in the bathroom sink down the hall, blue tint saturated the water spiraling down the drain. I pumped the soap dispenser again.

 

Saline (pt. VII)

I went to Balboa Beach one time for a bonfire with some friends. I always felt so lonely and loved at the same time when I was in front of a bonfire. But when I stepped away to feel the cold lick of the sea, I could sense the way there was no fire left in me. I was more like the crescent ghost moon that punctured the inkiness of the night, reflecting in indigo silver over the waves that crashed in such a quietly chilling, chanting way. At that moment, I was sure that if I was alone I could just walk into them and never come back again, and I was only disturbed to realize I believed this was a moment of beauty.

* *

Jasper certainly came unannounced, but we were no where near the ocean. We went out on our first date to a fish taco joint in the city. I should have just been honest and told him that lately I had been feeling sleepy and was hoping he would wake me up, so he could have said No up front. Instead, I told him things I never should have said, like how I would take the ability to breathe underwater if he chose to have wings, so I could take him through the sea as long as he would fly me through the sky. Like how I told him the things that I had learned, namely how the Fourth of July was the most lonely holiday, how nice it would be to cuddle in a blanket on the beach with a tin of brownies. I eventually realized Jasper didn’t understand these things, the same way he did not understand the composition of the saltwater that would run out of my eyes from time to time.

I finally realized there was a practical joke going on that wasn’t funny. The ones I had wanted to call beloved were ubiquitously afraid of the ocean. Those that I knew that were not afraid had already fallen in love with sirens; one siren was Pride, another was Marijuana, the other was my roommate Robyn. 

* *

Never try to be a land mammal when you think you’re tired of feeling like just another fish in the sea. The body and spirit do not exist without each other, Aristotle mentioned. Neither does the dolphin without the wild ocean. 

* *

I put on my torn painter’s jeans again. Heaps of paint were squeezed out from a drawer-full of Liquitex tubes. Photographs on a laptop screen guided the way I mixed the paint with knives on my thrift store plate palettes. Three shades of blue, phthalo green, alizarin crimson, burnt umber, cadmium yellow & oxide, and massive amounts of titanium white. 

Saline (pt. VI)

I stopped listening to that Mae song. I watched fireworks on the Fourth of July offshore by myself. But maybe that was the point of the song, after all. What a tease. I started having a hard time sleeping again, but it was worse than my insomnia from high school. Ironically, the song I moved on to was just a different Mae song, “The Sun and the Moon.” It was the only thing in my life that could ever feel quiet enough. It was the only thing that felt hopeful without the farce of assuming; simply stating Painted skies, I’ve seen so many that cannot compare to your ocean eyes, the pictures you took that cover your room…

* *

Remember that it is like almost drowning for the first time—heartbreak. It’s a veil torn. You realize that just because you were born in fluid, that doesn’t mean you can breathe it, that doesn’t make you deserve the ability to swim. Even though the sunny sky makes the ocean spray so bright—remember, it is heartbreaking to almost drown for the first time.

Remember also that it is difficult to ask for help when you’re already in the process of drowning. 

* *

Once I wrote a story of a girl who got so bad she tried to bleed out at the feet of the ocean, but she was rescued by a lover. That is the way I wrote things in high school. Call it curiosity, call it imagination, call it under-the-influence of the pituitary gland. But there was something lingering in my DNA, something related to whatever it was that gave me the reason to sit in an armchair across from a psychiatrist at nine years old. 

And I think it found me again, dehydrated, a year shy of 21. Those university years—there seemed to be so much transition, so much compression, so many car accidents, so much dying. I was still making up stories, but now my imagination was educated enough to leave the rescuing lover out of it. Now they were places I would wander into during the expanse of my waking hours. I called them my daydream terrors. Suffice to say I would never come out unscathed.