“Deep calls out to deep
In the roar of your waterfalls;
All your waves and breakers
Have swept over me”
“Would you jump into the water?”
“Yes. Right now.”
It was cold and grey, some time around sunset with no sun. I stood facing the sea through the chain link fence while my brother shifted nervously next to me. He had the awkward smirk on his face he gave whenever he didn’t know what to say or had to deal with anything serious. Wanting to speak but deciding better of it, he lit up a cigarette, which is what the occasion called for in his mind. Rain fell sideways, leaving us nakedly exposed under the scant protection of the cypress tree. I stood looking out through the stacked rhombus of the fence, shifting focus from the waves to the water collecting on the metal links.
I had spent the majority of my two weeks back home in California completely drunk. Any thought I’d had of "this time back will be different" was drowned by the sadness and misery of ex-girlfriends and ex- acquaintances embracing me as an old friend; they knew me as intimately as a barstool knows the contours of the alcoholic’s ass. Life had carried on at home without any participation from me. I wandered aimlessly as a stranger among familiarity. I felt truly and profoundly sorry for myself in a way only a Russian spirit could understand. Guilt and shame clothed me; I wanted to apologize for something to someone but I didn’t know to whom or for what.... When the invitation came to drive up the northern coast, I packed my rags and got in the car.
The north was different from the south only in scenery. The week passed in rain, cold, and whiskey. Every morning I woke to the same emptiness, the same displaced feeling of a refugee. I was just as relieved at leaving there as I had been home. On the trek south, there were signs for a scenic drive. The other members in the car decided on the detour, not bothering to ask how I felt about it.
After driving for little more than a half hour, we parked the car at one of the lookout points above a lonesome beach. The car was left idling while the driver and passenger scrolled through their phones. Rain collected on the windshield while heat from the vents formed a foggy screen from the inside. I quietly exited the car. I heard the door of the car close behind me as my brother followed me out. There was a lone cypress tree next to a fence that separated the road from the beach. I shuffled toward it to get out of the rain. I kept my gaze toward the ocean but could feel my brother looking at me from behind.
“Would you jump into the water?”
The music in the waves was terrible in its beauty and horrible in its permanence. I closed my eyes and listened. Listened. Before my brain caught up with my body I’d climbed over the fence that separated me from the beach. I immediately kicked off my shoes. It was a pebble beach, so I was aware of every stone and shell that pushed into my feet. I heard the rattle of the fence as my brother jumped over after me. I couldn’t look back. The waves rolled toward the shoreline and back into each other, spraying, tumbling and roaring, mesmerizing me...calling.
The rain battered my face and blinded my eyes. It soaked my jacket through, so I took it off as a gust of wind knocked the hat off my head. The air smelled of salt and despite the rain I could feel it on my skin. My shirt, without the protection of my jacket, was soon just as wet, so I peeled it from my back and threw it on the beach behind me. I kept walking toward the breakers, drawing closer with each step, barely noticing the wind and rain whose cold went through skin down to my marrow. My feet became anaesthetized, I no more felt the pebbles than if I had felt a blade of grass walking through a field. The bottom half of my clothing came off next, which only caused a minor pause in my trek. I couldn’t take it with me.
I was barely conscious of my movements and only had a vague awareness that I was the one making them. The water sprinted to the limits of its boundary to taste my ankles. I released a gasp of air. Looking ahead, I saw a wall of boiling, churning water race forward with urgency to consume me. The music was loud and awful and rang in my ears and brain. I heard nothing else as I was being summoned.
I hesitated only a second as the sea crescendoed from my viscera to my chest. I looked eye to eye with the cacophony of water that bore down on me. In an instant, I was swallowed from the bottom, behind and above as I was flung over, under and sideways. Then nothing. Silence. Darkness.
Water filled my ears and lungs. I had no orienting point of up or down, and opposing currents kept me from going in any direction. I had to stop struggling. I was running out of breath and energy. I opened my eyes and saw the shadows of waves pass above me. All was quiet but for the muted gurgle and groan of the waves. Opposing currents continued to suspend my body in a cold watery purgatory. My breath was failing, my ears pounded, and the frigidness of the sea was excruciating, burning my frame while my insides squealed like a swine for breath....
Then, slowly and subtly, like creeping spring, there started another movement in the music. Without the terror but with all the power of the sea, it came. The song was wild and untame, overwhelming; and yet, at the same time, assuring and gentle. It surrounded and caressed me like a mother cooing a baby yet unborn in its womb. My chest began to relax and warmth replaced the coldness. I closed my eyes as the most beautiful music I’d ever heard filled me and moved through me like water in a wilted plant after days of drought. Knowing I was beaten, I surrendered.
But the song came and left like a phantom. Almost before I was aware I had heard it, I was spewed on the shore coughing and sputtering and hugging the earth. My brother ran toward me with a variation of his smirk I didn’t know. It was as if I had become a stranger to him. There was no absence of love but a departure from familiarity; as if he were looking at me from across an impassable gulf, despite which, he embraced me. I began to feel the cold again and waves of shivers involuntarily seized my body. We got back in the car and continued the drive back in silence, each lost in his own thoughts.
Home is peculiar; when you leave, it never seems to exist how you thought you left it; but it remains exactly the same in all the ways you’d have it change. The lonesome angry sixteen year old still lurks those streets. The same background music in minor keys hangs over every corner injecting painful memories, countless nostalgias and a longing for a home that is nothing but an abandoned shell.
But the hope of returning home still lingers; in the smell of orange groves after it rains or the cool night air reminding me of open-windowed bedrooms where I laid waiting for a text that wouldn’t come. I see it in faces of friends, drawn by their thirst to the taverns, aching in their aloneness, desperate to be seen, screaming to be heard.
I died beneath the January waves.
Sometimes I hear echoes of the music of that sea, as if from far off. Alone in my room, I hear it in the rain falling on the roof. Or when the wind changes and the smell of summer turning to autumn fills the air and I know it can’t stay green and warm. Still, I linger in the doorway afraid to go through. But then I hear the music and I relax my grip, and am filled again with the sweetest longing of a distant hope. Then I remember, nobody's home. Not yet.