The sea has always frightened me. Its strength, sheer magnitude, its many faces. Small waves could make me stumble while larger ones would wash over me gently. One moment the water would rage and storm despite clear skies; the next, it would look like a limpid pool, begging to hold you in its arms, promising to keep you safe while you float, staring at the clouds. I used to think of it as a huge half-sleeping animal, temperamental at best, threatening and beautiful at the same time.
When I was a child I never ventured far, preferring to paddle around in the shallows. I would try for hours to catch the foam in my cupped hands but be disappointed with a thin film of sand instead. Nevertheless I kept trying. Kids don’t disappoint easy. Besides, half the allure of the creamy white foam was that it could never belong to you. It just slipped through your fingers time and time again, and the lingering bubbles on your fingers beckoned you to try harder.
As I grew older I went further out but not by much. My toes would dig into the sand and the muscles in my thighs would flex, aching as I strode out against the current, deeper into the water. Still, something made me hang back, at a respectful distance, cautious of the ever rising waves.
Those waves. I loved leaping into the thick of them, laughing and splashing as they drove me playfully towards the shore. Or dodging them completely, jumping over them and watching them thunder past me. I loved hearing the muted rumble of the churning water when I dove under a wave instead. Loved the feeling of my hair being whipped around violently, blinding me for a few instants before the water calmed and cleared.
If I ever made the mistake of going out too far, there would always be that sneaky wave that would catch me unawares and remind me of my place. My head would be turned, distracted by something and WHAM. Like the punch of a boxer, powerful, precise and deadly. My head would whip back and the water would somersault me over and over, twisting my arms and legs painfully. I would blink furiously, trying desperately to make sense of the madness. It would last only a few seconds but the panic would drag out the moments until suddenly, out of the blue, I would be dumped unceremoniously on my bottom onto the hard shore. Then, sitting up, spitting out a mouthful of sand and water and trying to calm my nerves, I would stare at sea. At the waves, innocently licking my toes, calling me back.
And I would go. But I’d be careful to stay prudently within those unspoken limits, having learned my lesson. A ‘gentle’ reproof, but it was enough.
The world saw the sea at its worst four years ago. I wonder what it was trying to punish us for then. Such destruction, such trauma, such terrible tragedy. And we were powerless in the face of it.
I’ve met people in my life who affect me in the same way the sea does. Who’ve threatened but attracted me. Comforted and destroyed me. Buoyed me up when I thought I would drown, only to render me weak and useless when I least expected it. Glorious deception. Time and time again I would catch at those foam-like promises and each time I’d be disappointed. Words that could bathe me in contentment ended up wreaking havoc in my head, washing away false hopes. My childish sandcastles have been flattened repeatedly in a single swipe and I’ve had to start all over again.
And I have started again. But I’m building higher up on the beach, where the waves won’t reach me. I keep a wary eye on the sea and still marvel at its beauty. Miss its coolness against my hot skin. Miss being cradled like a baby to that slow, sweet rhythm.
I know I’ll swim out there again. In a while. But for now, I’m staying right where I am, at a safe distance.
I crush the sand in my palm and pat it firmly against the walls of my castle. I’m making it stronger this time. Taking my time, taking care to fill in the cracks and mold it the way I want it.
I know I’ll go out there again.
I’m just watching and waiting for the right time to test the waters again.