The water was warm, running about my feet, my ankles. It was the same temperature as the air, the same color as the night sky. I looked down just to be sure I was in it.
Ahead of me, the blackness stretched endlessly. It overtook the stars, ducking peacefully behind wispy clouds, racing past a big, low moon. I moved forward. Tiny waves crashed against my knees, my waist, my chest. I dove under, weightless, free. I opened my eyes; it didn’t matter.
Out here, I thought, I’m like the water. Unencumbered, accountable to no one. I drifted, partnered in a harmonic relationship with the tide, the flow of water. I continued to float, relaxed, uncaring of direction, any remaining kernels of urgency from the real world drifting out to sea.
As I swam, it was easy to imagine that I had left the earth far behind. I had quit it, disregarded like a treasured memory, but one whose time has come and gone. The world had been good to me, now it was time to leave. I swam farther, past the breakers, not bothering to turn to see the dot of the hotel grow smaller. If I had, I might or might not have noticed the glistening of the shoreline, the barely visible palm trees stunted along the coast, the specks of light in the mountains representing shanties and hostels.
In my head there was only me. There was only me and this water and this sky, this endless space of black and wet, a soft wind and gentle roar pulling me towards infinity. It was times like this when a person could truly get lost, a rare experience of awareness.
And then, just as quickly as it came on, the feeling left me. I sputtered, turned back towards shore. There was only so far a man could go.
I sat at the water’s edge, letting the waves roll over and around me. The sand scratched at my knees, my back, my chest. My hands searched, closing around small rocks and shells. If I closed my eyes, the ocean sounded vicious, violent, capable of great damage. When I opened them, the waves were gentle, pushing me this way and that. I lay back, smiling. My lips tasted of salt.
Then, at my hand, an object tickled. Squinting into the night did no good — I thrashed my arms, reaching urgently, but pulled back only fine, wet sand, squished between my fingers. When I rolled over in the shallow water, grasping, I found the object: a sand dollar, black and still alive.
I held it close to my face, catching the moonlight. Tiny tentacles moved carefully, searching for water. I stood. I put the sand dollar in my pocket, happy with my bounty, and headed in.
During the slow walk through the sand, I felt it squirm slightly against my leg. I, in turn, squirmed. Before me, the lights of the hotel blinked, waiting my return. My fiancé, awaiting my return. The sand dollar, writhing in my pocket.
The previous peace had dissipated, a wash of concern now in its place. I stopped, dripping in the sand, contemplating. I reached back, felt the sand dollar. I took it out. It was visible by the moonlight, but only barely. I turned, headed back into the water. I dropped it once we were knee-deep.
I still think of that sand dollar, what it’s now doing. As I commute to work, interview photographers. I think of it, squirming and floating in that black water.