being in the ocean for the first time

The Power of Water

Over the weekend, I started to think that I might not need to join the chorus of Go Vote! among the blue masses. I know we need every single drop in our blue wave, but I feel that riptide pulling me along as we approach the vote.

When I was six, my parents drove us south through the Midwest in our camper to Florida for Christmas. I had never tasted oranges so sweet. I had never heard an alligator roar. I had never seen the ocean. It’s a whole story of how a little girl can wake up to a new world around her. Plus, we got the inside tour at the Kennedy Space Center because my dad, an engineer for the Navy, had a seismic experiment that was going up with the Apollo missions.

I remember my first ocean moment. We stopped at Kon Tiki, a campground on the Atlantic side near St. Augustine. It isn’t there any more. That day, the weather was almost too chilly for swimming. My mom and my sister wore long striped pants and cardigan sweaters that they held tight across themselves in the wind. They got their feet wet and probably the bottoms of their pants too. My dad, brother, and I donned our bathing suits and prepared for an Arctic plunge.

My teeth chattered as the three of us walked forward into the water. My dad wore a bathing suit that looked like a tight white pair of shorts with a waist that went up too high. My brother’s suit was red and elastic. Why do I remember that? I have no idea what my bathing suit looked like. I remember shivering and being too excited to feel much fear.

“Bud, you hold onto your sister’s hand as we go in,” Dad said. “Whatever happens, don’t let go of her.”

And he took my other hand in his. He held it a little too tightly. I knew not to pull away. Dad got stern when he was afraid. He sounded so strong. Will of iron.

And we paced three by three into the foam. The first swirl of cold water over our feet rose quickly to my ankles, knees, and then my waist. It was cold.

Then, I laughed as a wave taller than any of us raced toward us.

I had no idea how to face a wave back then. I was a Midwestern kid who’d never seen the ocean. None of us knew to duck down before it hit.

I laughed just as it slapped us square in our faces. My brother’s hand crunched my small hand suddenly, until the bones ground painfully together. He tried not to let go. He really tried. Even my dad couldn’t hold onto me.

And that ocean swirled sand and water into my mouth and my eyes, took my feet out from under me, pulled me deeper, lifted me up for a catch-breath and back under and down into green water. I opened my eyes to the sting. Then, it swirled me end over end over end until I had no idea which way was up, but somehow ended up lying panting on the sand with my bathing suit wedgied in the back and twisted around on my torso.

Everyone ran toward me. I was the baby. I’d been snatched.

I felt the grit of sand between my teeth. My hair had pulled out of my braid. I took a couple of breaths and jumped up, laughing and screaming to do it over again. Relief flooded my dad’s face.

I had never felt water so powerful, like huge hands that decided my fate, that negated all my dad’s control over the world, Dad’s will of iron bent like putty under the will of that tide.

It opened my eyes to the power of water.

Today, I want all those drops of the blue wave to move together, to rise up, to check the power of our corrupt politicians. I want that wave to tower over their heads and rip their linked arms apart. I want them to be flipped upside down, to be washed up onto the sand, breathless, and in awe that tiny individual drops of water could carry such a current as this, could have carried them out to sea and down to the depths, breath denied.

I want to feel the glory of the blue wave just like that day when I was six and first met the ocean face to face.

Thank you for listening, jules