The ocean wants me dead.
I know this for a fact. I learned it as a very young child, when I’d go visit my grandpa in California. My grandpa practically lived in the ocean, and his idea of the best way to teach me to swim in it was to have me just follow him out into the waves while he fired off advice faster than the swells were smacking me in the face. He knew I’d get knocked down a few times, get tumbled over in a blinding, churning froth of sand and salt, and then be picking grains of sand out of my ears for days afterward, but that was all for my good. It would help me get over being afraid of it.
It would have worked great if I lived near the ocean. As it was, I only saw the ocean once a year, and every time I got in it, it pounded me. So deep down, even though I was an adult now, I felt that the ocean was still going to try and kill me every chance it got.
Ready? Lin signed impatiently, already up to her hips in the surf. I stood with my toes digging into the sand and nodded, trying to make my body language say, sure I’m ready. There was no way, with my limited sign language, to explain to her how I felt about the ocean, and how it was all my grandfather’s fault. I hoped she couldn’t see the fear in my eyes.
She put her fists on her hips and waited for me to come out into the water. Why did we have to go to the beach today? The waves out there were as tall as I was. I made myself jump in and start paddling toward my doom.
A family was playing in the surf, kids with life-jackets on, and a dark gray mop dog paddling bravely along side them. Lin clicked her fingers in the air, the sign for dog, and pointed with a smile. I nodded and pantomimed the dog’s frantic strokes, paws striking out right in front of his raised chin. The dog’s owner shot me a sharp look, as if she thought I was making fun of their dog. Well, I was, sort of, but not in the way she thought. She didn’t know Lin couldn’t have heard me say, “Yes, I see the dog, he sure is cute the way he swims.”
I tried hard to keep Lin in my sight as we got closer to the place where the waves were breaking. If she got in trouble, she could yell and I’d hear her. If I got in trouble, I wasn’t sure what would happen. Maybe I’d have to depend on the people on shore to hear my screams. No, Lin was keeping an eye on me. I saw her check on me just before she dove under the first wave.
I hate this part, I hate this part, I thought as the wave started to crest over me. I dove late, felt the massive pressure of the water push me down, but then I shot forward under it and the back of the wave lifted me up again. Gasping, surprised at how easy that had been, I clawed my way toward the next wave with all I had, dove, and came up in the calm swells beyond.
Lin was already there, floating peacefully on her back, a slight smile on her face. The water was deep out here, I could see the bottom well below my blurry, kicking toes. But the swells were gentle, the ocean almost friendly. I stretched out on my back and it cradled me, held me up, with the sky bright overhead.
It was like that good feeling after you’ve just made a new friend.