Slowly tilting my head back into the lapping surface, the strands of my hair separate and flutter in suspension under the water, lightly tickling over my shoulders. I love going to the beach alone. I come here to escape myself, and let the icy August water numb around the crown of my head. The incessant chittering chatter banter in my brain that keeps me awake at three in the morning, or keeps my mouth moving when I’m only grasping at awkward conversation, is hushed by the beach grass waving in the wind. Beach grass greets East Enders like an old friend. Even on the stillest day, a breeze will ripple through the reeds a soft hello. The rustling of their blades lightly whispering breathe…breathe….” The muggy inland air is carried off by salty wisps of cool breeze that sometimes whistle as they curl off the waves of the water.
The hot sand stings bare feet just enough to entice me down to the green water’s edge. I never run, I wade in slowly, let my hips roll with the waves for balance, until I feel my toes sink in the soft chocolate silt, just beyond the rocky ledge of Long Island. The blinding glitter of the sun’s light scatters and slips back and forth over edges of chopped ocean surface, a hypnotizing lull. I’m sure there are places in the world both awesome and austere for pondering the philosophical perplexities of life and the universe, but it isn’t here, not for me. I never grew the strength of my ebullient mother, or the infallible stability of my stoic father; I’ve always been meek and disorganized. They say, though, I have some of my great grandmother’s spirit. I feel the infinitesimal connections of my family to this sea. My Shinnecock roots laced into the shoreline of Long Island, my Irish roots sailed for refuge from famine to land in Bridgehampton. My people were and are baymen. This sea has provided food on our tables for more than a century now.
For me this briny bay water can feed more than a body, it can soak out sins and sorrows, and suckle the soul as the body floats on the surface. Laying on my back with nothing but Atlas’ sea beneath me, I let little waves lap against my face as if licking my wounds, and turn to watch the tide come in and erase my footprints and all of where I was before.
If I let my mind be too quiet I’d fall asleep, so I daydream. I think about the greatness all about me, the huge island carved out by a glacier, and the Atlantic….
Long before God had thought of humanity he formed the Atlantic by drawing and quartering Pangea, and the waters of the world rushed in to fill the void. I like to think of it as the first time the world felt apart. In Greek myth, the sea bore Aphrodite, the goddess of love, off its foaming breaks. It carried kings of war, gentlemen of fortune, sailors and slaves, and is the final resting place to all of these. But for me, like my family before, it is a refuge.
My favorite story of the Atlantic was told to me when I was so young I can barely recall the weathered face that related it to me, the story of spring tides. “Before time was ticked off on clocks,” she said, “the Titan Atlas, married Goddess of the Moon, Selene, whom he loved dearly.
After the great war of the gods, Atlas was condemned to hold the world away from the sky, where the beautiful Selene remained luminous, slowly twirling. Atlas’ salty, heartbroken tears formed the Sea of Atlas, modernly, the Atlantic. That’s why when the moon is full and closest to earth, the sea reaches up toward her. This is called a spring tide because spring is the season of love, and renewal. The spring tide renews the love between Atlas and Selene, the sea and the moon. If you swim in salt water, the salt will heal any cut, but for the heart and what cuts the deepest, swim in the spring tide.”
That story, however fanciful, resonates in my mind; clear like crystal, as I float in the surf. Now as a woman, I come here to the shores, to float and soak out the heartache, sacrificing it all to the Atlas Sea, at spring tide.
Abruptly my concentration is broken by a shriek. My daughter runs back and forth at the icy edge of the dark wet sand, giggly at her footprints and screaming as the freezing froth catches her toes. I remember my grandmother watching me race the waves back then. I remember she walked into the water the same way she walked to the alter for communion. Now, I understand the parallel.