observations and opinion
The Atlantic waters at Wellfleet can be warm in August, I have been told, but that is not my experience. As gold and thick as the sea can be at the rise of day, it holds the black sting of icy cold, especially at dawn.
One long ago morning I plunged into that water, pushing outward from the shore towards the new sun, still low and burning at the horizon. The light pooled around me, I stretched out and floated in it, as night melted into new day. It was a swim that seemed both fleeting and eternal.
I return in memory to that beach, because it was a place where I became certain. “Became certain” in the sense that the mind and body were as one – ideas commingled with sensations: who I was, what had to be done, these things were plain as a stone in your fist. Like some accidental baptism, I came out from the ocean clean and sure. The only thing that was uncertain was the future.
Can an ocean hold knowledge? I’m not mystic enough to think that, even if I believed it. Which I probably do. What I knew when I walked onto the sand was yes, I was somebody’s father and no, I wouldn’t meet up with that unlucky child unless I left the life I was living. Unless I broke out and became myself, whoever he was. So the dead skin of the old life fell off me in the salty sea and I emerged, cold and naked as a baby, onto the flat wet sand of a new morning.
Steeled with this recognition, I pushed through the coming months like the prow of a boat. Not the wind or the tide or the depths of the sea below me were deterrent. You become annealed in this fashion only a few times and once so sharp, you either cut up the world you’re contained in or you cut loose. Often both before you are done.
I have often said that “a decision takes just a moment, but indecision can take your whole life.” I say it because it’s true: the only resource we really get is time, and that is peculiarly finite and unpredictable. It feels like forever until it is done. You have to overcome the belief that time is infinite, if you’re going to do something with it. And then you must choose. Because if you can’t choose you will just spin in place. That’s a life, but it’s not much of a life- you see the same things over and over.
My own choice then was to break off from the spouse and work and house and life I knew and, armed only with my certainty, some skills and whatever luck I had in my pocket, to go. We sold the old house, carved up the money and rented a truck. My stuff went on first, hers went on next, hers came off first, mine came off later. I was nothing if not methodical in the destruction of our old life.
From those icy waters at Wellfleet I washed ashore on the top floor of an old mansion in Rosedale, in rooms painted blue and green, with bookcases I never quite filled and boxes I never quite emptied. It wasn’t home so much as a lighthouse, where I waited and watched for the next part of my life to blow in. It was a house to be temporary.
The mansion itself was a great wedding cake of a place, cut up into flats with high ceilings and tired wood floors. The ground floor apartment was home to a rising singer; above her one of those women who had cats, a concert subscription, a library job and deep grudges against the government. Other tenants shifted about the place like phantoms; they were pleasant to me, in the manner of ghosts greeting someone who didn’t know yet that he was dead. Of course, part of me, most of me, was dead – buried at sea.
And the creature climbing the creaking stairs to the third floor of Number 7 Meredith, dressed in new suits and toting his laptop bag, wasn’t really quite yet born.
But he would be.