I came to her one last time before the long drive west. I needed to visit her, to talk to her, to tell her I was going. I had a cough and laryngitis, neither of which were troubling, the likely result of ragweed season. I padded my way up the boardwalk, loving the dune grasses and shrubby evergreens and soft sloping sands.
There is a point on the walkway where you suddenly see her. She flirts with me, coming closer, then pulling back. She is so confident, my lady, elemental really. She puts on no airs, begs no pardons, she simply is. Sometimes stormy, sometimes calm, she can be a lovely playmate, but you should never forget that she is never fully safe.
I set my chair in the sand, set down my bag and simply watched her. It’s best to gauge her moods before making a final approach. Sometimes it is best not to engage with her when she’s wild, stormy and clawing at the shore. Anyone who goes to her then could be pulled into the deep.
The Atlantic is a woman and I am in love. I love her songs, her whispers, even her roars.
This day she was slapping the waves hard in places, moving this way and that. Her sister, the Pacific, tried to drown me years ago and I have never forgotten that day. I was thinking that the water was too rough for me, so I sat and watched her frolic for some time.
She enticed me with seafoam chasing along the shore, moving along invisible paths. I approached a float of foam and was enchanted by the rainbow shining off the bubbles, which formed and disappeared growing smaller and smaller as I watched. I had chosen a safe bit, high on the shore, but it was soon gone and I followed another and another, until my feet were in the silky waters. She lapped around me softly, reminding me of other times, other days of sunshine and play.
She called me to come swim, but I didn’t trust her. She can be a trickster, hiding her furies in sweetness, like a southern woman, all smiles and sweetness with daggers staring from their eyes. I stepped deeper. The water was pleasantly cool and the waves as they reached me had lost their fury, curling around my ankles and caressing my calves. I tread deeper, mid-calf now, in love with her. A surprise surge slapped me about my hips before pulling back. There was no strong undertow, as I was expecting. Where I was standing the pull was a playful tug, nothing more.
The waves further out calmed as she beguiled me. The water effervesced. She was in a spa mood, it seemed.
The red flags were there for a reason, but conditions change, right? And I longed to swim, buoyed by the briny deep…all was calm, the wind warm. I decided that I wouldn’t submerse myself due to the nagging cough. I hate being cautious when adventure awaits, but an adult has to be smart.
So I stayed in the shallows, and it was luscious. Kicking and playing in the water, the salty smell in my nose. She sent a few waves my way, bigger than before, but they would calm right before reaching me and stroke my skin as it splashed to the waist.
I dipped and splashed water on my arms and shoulder, careful to avoid my hair. A rogue wave came at me sideways, splashing up and over me, pulling my feet from under me. I came up, spluttering and laughing, soaked from head to toe. It was a fairly gentle shove. Ah, she was in a playful mood.
After a time, she thought she had lured me into complacency, but I felt it when she grabbed at my ankles and pulled. She didn’t want me to leave and I had to decide whether to stay with her permanently or to regretfully leave her behind. Her problem was she wasn’t patient enough and I was still on guard. I felt her greed for me, her longing to pull me to her bosom for a last, wet kiss, and I quickly turned and walked up the beach.
I stood for a long time at the top of the walkway, saying my goodbye’s and attempting to burn her sights, her sounds and her smell into my memory, trying not to cry.
That evening, I discovered her final gift to me. By 8 o’clock that evening, there were sounds in my lungs that whistled and sucked and pulled like the surf. Within a couple of hours, every breath sounded like whale song. By morning, the doctor at Urgent Care diagnosed me with bronchitis and pneumonia. I’ve had them before, but I’ve never heard lung sounds like this. My lungs sucking like a rip tide, and still calling humpback cries.
It’s my final gift from the Atlantic. She doesn’t want me to leave. It’s not that she loves me; I’m not so arrogant as to believe that, it’s more like she’s greedy for attention. I can’t honestly say. But for now, I wish the only whale song I was hearing was on a noise machine or a PBS documentary. And no matter how horrid her parting gift to me, I leave with her call in my ears and lungs, sand in my pockets and shoes, and salt in my skin and hair. Love isn’t rational. It just is.