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Monday, February 6, 2017

The Voice

     Growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s, I was consumed with a rabid desire to surf so that I could meet Moondoggie. This was the dark haired moonlight surfer and love interest of a teenage girl named Gidget in a series of books and movies set along the California coast. My grand notion was plausible given that I lived in Huntington Beach, nicknamed Surf City, U.S.A. The streets were overrun with dreamy James Darren wanna-be’s. Unfortunately balancing on a long narrow board went beyond my ability, so instead, I took up bodysurfing.
     It’s a unique idea, leaping astride a water horse to connect with fluid in motion. The intersection of human and wave must be perfect. Standing chest deep in water facing shore until a crest curls a few feet behind, while my arms quickly stroke toward land, morphing into a body torpedo. Catch a curl peaking too early it can push me down deep, tumbling through a sand storm. After many early efforts, I’d surface spitting up grit and salt water, long bloody scrapes lined into my skin. With practice, I learned to approach a wave just right, propelled all the way in, grinning ear to ear. I became rather good at body surfing, but not at swimming or obeying warning signs.
     In the middle of a beautiful day during my fourteenth summer, a string of words entered a self-created precarious situation to toss me a life vest.

     “Do not fight a riptide, ride along with the current until it lets go or you will drown.”

The dulcet nuances of cascading letters did not reflect gender or age, they sounded or feel timeless, like an ancient tree. The statement was also accurate since I am indeed greatly immersed in an act of drowning. A riptide swirls beneath an otherwise calm sea. I had frantically made attempts to swim to shore but the current resisted carrying me beyond the ability to touch bottom. Soon I grew too tired for anything but an ineffective dog paddle. Far enough from shore that screaming would amuse passing sea birds, but otherwise be a useless enterprise, I continue with trying to survive.

     Breathe, dog paddle, breathe.

A booming voice repeats the instruction.

    “Do not fight a riptide, ride along with the current until it lets go or you will drown.”

In between salty gulps of air and frantic slaps at an expanse of rolling ocean I circle to see who is also drowning or watching my display with amusement. No swimmers are near since everyone else obeyed the caution flag announcing hazardous conditions. Out of time, out of energy, there is nothing left in my suitcase but trust for a random historical intonation or thought popping out of nowhere. Exhausted I flip on my back, toes to the sun, far enough from shore that people are bits of moving color, more kaleidoscope than human landscape. The ocean fills my ears leaving behind only the sound of my breath and heartbeat.


At 14 I don’t find it alarming to hear another speaker clearly not my own in my head. It isn’t unusual for me to talk inside myself, I did it all the time when family matters were overwhelming. But these announcements are not mind circle conversations about who, what and why. They are declarative, informative and said with authority. Typical exchanges with my self-self were chatty, bitchy and occasionally whiny.

     I’m going to die.

Considering the precarious state of my existence, the Voice responds neutrally.


Having achieved my acquiescence to the original suggestion, the dispassionate stranger then silenced.
     Saltwater laps at my face while the merry sun lopes across the midday sky. Floating, I resume considering what may happen next. My heartbeat does laps around my breath as I think about salt water invading my insides and the process of gasping for air one last time. A question of sharks brings visions of blood and dismembered appendages. My anxious perusing lifts me outside myself, as though watching a familiar actor living my life, a technique I perfected as a small child during trauma drama. Stepping just to the side of my experience I observe the situation with the mind of a scientist dissecting a squid.

     Will my body be found? Probably not. Will my mother cry?

There is no solid answer to that last question. On any given day her reaction to my death would have been different. My heart beat and breath slow softened by the emotional distance I created, while the vast expanse of ocean incomprehensibly comforts me womblike. This is why I loved bodysurfing. Out here in spite of everything, I felt safe and wildly free. I lose sense of time, my shriveling skin the announcement I have been lost at sea quite a while.
     The strong surge continues to sweep along, dilly-dallying off the shoreline until it runs out of steam. A particularly large swell gathers me in slow motion. This wave follows the one preceding it and another arrives shortly after. Each are part of an endless supply directed by gravitational forces of the Moon, Sun, and rotating Earth. Stumbling out of the water I fall to the sand on shaking knees. Sounds of the crowded beach welcome me home, closing the distance of mind-body separation. I walk the couple of miles I’d drifted from family, who wouldn’t have become aware someone was missing until sunset. Not wanting to encourage an addition of more rules I lay down on my towel without informing anyone of the experience, pondering the mysterious swimming coach in silence.

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