He dropped her hand, lifting his to his brow. Scanning the horizon, he motioned silently for her to follow him down a sloping path to the beach.
Beams of sunlight crept up and over the curve of the Earth, painting the ocean a silky pastel pink. It was an unusually flat morning. Not even a sea breeze rippled over the Pacific. To disturb the ocean’s surface on a morning like this would be to ruin the illusion of perfection.
That’s why he could rarely look her in the eyes. In his mind, she was perfect — beyond beautiful, her sun-bleached and wavy hair cascading over her shoulders. Her eyes as freckled as her face, her skin a golden tan. Looking at her too deeply would reveal the world inside, a world he knew contained broken pieces. He accepted these pieces and accepted that as hard as he tried, none of his tape and glue would put her back together.
And so he allowed her to be, at least in his eyes, as perfectly whole as the unmarred ocean before them.
He touched her arm only to guide her down the path, letting her go when their toes met sand. They walked south hip to hip, letting the shoreline and the hours slip by in silence.
When the sun reached its apex, they sat on a sea-shaped piece of driftwood, watching seagulls dip to the sea and scoop up fish. They were lulled by the in and out and in and out and in of the waves. They noticed where the tide had been, where it was, and where it would soon go. The cycles of the Earth kept them sane.
When night eventually fell, they found a cove, holding each other close as the world spun them into darkness. It was a balmy, breathless night, one that begged for nothing beyond the clothes they wore.
She fell asleep with her head on his chest, the sound of his heart the only thing that could drown out the hum of the waves.
This continued for three days, until finally, they reached the border. Beyond them, another country. The border was invisible, of course. Humans create maps and borders and lines and laws, but the Earth accepts all and divides itself for none.
Humans, though, were the decision makers. The Earth had no say in these matters. He could not continue — while she would move forward, he could only move backwards. And so they stood awhile, watching the waves move in and out again, feeling the electricity and pain in each others’ skin.
For the last time, he allowed himself to look her in the eyes, to soak in everything she was. To grip her hand more tightly than ever before. And then he let her go.
You must be willing to change. You must be willing to break the deal you made with the devils within. You must be willing to leave the past and not be tempted to rebound when times are tough. You must be willing to let go of everything and anyone that takes you back to your sins. You must be willing to have hope. You must be willing to have hope that you can change and that you will and that you will be better. You must believe you are worthy of change and you are worthy of improvement and you are worthy of being the best. You must be willing to set aside your negative notions about life, about hardships, about people, about things, about yourself. You must be willing to stop feeling sorry for yourself while looking at the world move around you.
And in the water I could see a piece of what you broke in me.
I took a walk my usual way,
I called to quit my job today.
And in these holy, empty hours, when my quiet thoughts get louder, Saying you’re born to be this way;
You’re not meant to be afraid.
Sometimes my heart and brain conspire to set everything on fire
Just to stop the tyranny of that minute hand on me.
We woke for golden morning hours, just to soak in all the power.
We weren’t made to be this way.
We weren’t made to be afraid.
“What are we here for if not to enjoy life eternal, solve what problems we can, give light, peace and joy to our fellow-man, and leave this dear fucked-up planet a little healthier than when we were born.”—Henry Miller
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”—Jack Kerouac
Where we live, what we do, who we love, why we continue to exist. To a great extent, we decide our own purpose.
And while all of these decisions are ours to make, we cannot have our first choices all at once. Life is about picking one or the other — what we do orwhere we live. Who we are or who we love.
There are an infinite number of options, and they change daily. This means that we are the result of the choices we make. They’ll rip us apart and build us back up.
At the end of the day, we have to choose the outcome that will cause us the least pain and bring the most happiness. The two are forever intertwined; a package deal that comes with every single breath we take. This delicate chemistry of loss and gain controls our lives.
We kill 24 hours each day — 24 hours we’ll never get back. We hope that, when the sun sets, we can sleep with the decisions we’ve made during those hours. We hope that we can rise again for the next 24 stronger, and able to keep moving with the conviction that the choices we made were right.
Life is this giant bridge, one without rails, immersed by fog, hovering over a churning bay or ocean or river - depends on where you live, I suppose.
The point is this:
You can keep crossing, keep moving forward with the crowd, and someday you’ll reach the end. I hope what you find there is pleasing.
You can jump off and sink down, if you so choose. Make of that what you will. It’s not about giving up.
You can climb the spans, walk the beams, slip on a dewy surface or soak up a ray of sun above the clouds. Below you, everything will move on as planned.
You can stop and enjoy the view, letting the hustle and flow of life move around you as you watch the water bend and twist in the light. You can stop for a moment with one of your fellow travelers, perhaps talk for a bit, let their hand grasp yours as you try to understand all that’s around you.
What you cannot do is turn back. This is a one way bridge. Perhaps you’re lucky enough to have forgotten what was at the genesis of this bridge. That is okay. You must simply keep moving forwards, toward the end - don’t spend too much trying to understand. You may crawl, walk, run, or skip. You may do things to slow your journey or speed it along; but you will always, always move forward.
The waves were high that morning and he wondered if he should go out. It was shorebreaky, the faces steep and just about the worst for surfing. But others had done it, and he would too. He pictured himself being pitched over the falls, his board spinning in the air above the froth, his leash twisting and twisting and snapping against his leg, his body rolling in the surf.
The air was that perfect mix of salt and seaweed, a briny, raw scent that burned his lungs. One at a time, he lifted his arms and rolled out his shoulders, letting the muscles stretch and pull, his breath coming in deep waves with the motion. He let his arms fall to his sides and pull him down so that his forehead touched his knees. He let it rest there, leaning into the pressure of his back muscles stretching and relaxing. He let his hand drift until it found his leash, and he wrapped it around his ankle with more care, more thought than usual. He twisted it to that perfect spot on the outside of his ankle bone and lifted his board from the sand, tucking it under his arm. It fit so perfectly there, nestled into his armpit, the wax facing out and grabbing his rubberized arm.
It fit there, in his embrace, far more snugly that she ever had, he thought.
Head up, he scanned the waves and waited for a pause. When a lull in the sets appeared, he strode out into the ocean, grimacing slightly at the sting of the February waters, as he always did. Shoving his board in front of him, he thrust it over a breaker and leapt on, his arms slicing cleanly through the water. It was a beautiful morning to be broken.
When he made it to the lineup, he sat for a beat, facing the shore and everything he’d left behind. As much as he always tried to leave everything on the beach, to ditch his worries and forget the pain that drove him to the waves, he never could. He knew he had to take these things with him out here, let the ocean take them and roll them over and carry them out to sea for him.
There was a man in a faded wetsuit a hundred yards to his left, sitting peacefully on a Harbour log. His grizzled beard held droplets of water and bits of seaweed, and his arms hung loosely at his side as he scanned the horizon. The man hadn’t moved the entire morning, passing up set after set of clean waves. It was getting choppier by the minute, and he knew the set would become blown out and mushy within the hour. Maybe the man knew something, he thought. It’s always the perfect waves that have the power to do the most damage.
He finally readied himself for a wave, spinning his board beneath him to watch for something worth grabbing. It was like window shopping, this waiting game. You could sit in the lineup all morning and not have the courage to take a wave, or be too picky to grab something less than perfect. It got to a point at which a surfer had to just take what was rolling through. We can’t predict what the ocean will serve us on any given day; the surf reports don’t lie, but they are guesses at their core.
After letting a few decent sets move beneath him, he spun towards shore and stretched out on his board, reveling in the way it always somehow became an extension of him. Arms pumping, he paddled forward and waited for the wave to grab him before popping up. It was decent, almost overhead, and he had to be nimble to navigate the drop. Part of him wanted to become a noodle, to fall apart and let the wave crumble over him, take him whole. But his instincts kicked in and he sliced into a bottom turn, letting the rails dig into the belly of the wave. There was no barrel here, but he preferred it. Getting lost in a green tube would have been too tempting.
When the wave began to close out, he kicked over the crest and let his board flip up into the air. Diving backwards, he let the cold Pacific swallow him whole, the water shocking his system. For a few blissful seconds, he tumbled about weightlessly, letting the current take and pull and rip and tousle his body, rough at times and gentle at others.
In those seconds, as he was suspended in water and salt and seaweed and sand and hydrogen, he thought about the whole thing, the course of finding her, of loving her, of knowing her and being completely broken by her.
He opened his eyes and saw the haze of seagreen water around him, felt the sting of it against his eyeballs, the pressure of the waves tumbling above him. It was a place he wanted to stay forever, but he eventually punched off the seafloor and rocketed to the surface, his right hand leading his head, trunk, hips out of the water. He floated for a second and let another wave roll over him, feeling the relentless tug of his board as it was pulled towards shore. He wanted to just drift, let the ocean take him as its own, let the sun shine down on his slick body, let the salt corrode his skin over days and weeks. But the more the air filled his lungs, the more the salty water kept him afloat, the more the sun warmed his face, the more he knew he would stay earthbound, tied to the solidity of life if only for awhile longer.
It was the walking away, the ignoring and the harsh slap of reality that allowed him to move on. It was realizing that he was more than what he was with her; that he was a human being capable of surviving on his own, happy or not, that forced him to rein in his board and swing his arm, then his leg over it to paddle back out. The waves were growing now, the swells coming in sets of three or four with long pauses in between, as if the ocean had to stop and gather itself, find the water and power and wind to whip up these monsters. He grunted as he crested a swell and popped up, scanning the skyline for the next group, waiting for something worth chasing.
He let seven sets roll beneath him before he found a wave breaking at the right point. He tried to find some symbolism in this, in waiting for something that was just right, that was breaking at the right point, just growing and cresting in a way that meant he didn’t need to move his position so much as swivel around and pump his arms like pistons until the wave took over. But he wasn’t much of a reader, and he decided it was better to separate this moment from the shitshow that his life had become. Instead, he gave a few strong strokes, dove into the wave, and waited for the push of the ocean beneath him. Eyes up, he pushed himself up and dropped down the face, just barely bringing the nose of his board up enough to cut across the face.
The following seconds were a blur; he may as well have been existing in a different world. He was machine, animal, an extension of the wave. He was part of the earth and completely separate at the same time, and it was perfect. In that moment, he was okay, and he knew that when the wave finally closed out in a thunderous rush of spray, he would still be alive in every sense of the word.