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His sticky fingers reached anxiously for the sleeping bag, grasped onto its straps and flung it into the trunk. With this being done, he licked the very last of the jam from his index finger and thumb and grinned at a job well done. The trunk of his small sedan was crammed tight with supplies for “wilderness exploration” as he had coined it; “camping” was too mundane, didn’t fully encompass his intended mission. He gave a satisfying shove to the red sleeping bag, cramming it further into the trunk, jostling a tackle box and shifting the tent poles, and closed the gaping mouth that was the back of his car. With breakfast having been eaten and the supplies having been all gathered up, he happily clutched his keys. This was it, he supposed, the last goodbye to these rows of brownstones and jagged sidewalks for two weeks.
He had fourteen days to become reacquainted with not only himself, but with nature. This meant tent-pitching, not showering, and sitting on the large boulder in the narrow section of river he’d be on and thinking for hours at a time. No television, no cellphone reception, and no job. He considered himself “unemployed”, and was eager to share this exciting news with anyone he encountered while away, whether it be a large bear or a colony of bees, or maybe even a tourist-type human being. The latter sent a thrill through his fingertips. To come off as a jobless nomad was all he’d been wanting. The freedom to sleep and wash his clothes on the riverbank, beat them with rocks and look at the stars without interruption from hissing streetlamps. He hoped the tall pines wouldn’t mind his new presence.
The silver sedan coughed as he rolled down the windows and cranked it into gear. He turned the radio off, a seldom heard-of gesture. But he just didn’t want to hear about any financial crises or impending doomsday prophecies today. Instead he breathed a tune whose name had faded over many years, but whose real lyrics had something to say about creeks and bumblebees. The traffic was thin, even as he merged onto the expressway, as the hour was too late for drunken stragglers, but still too early for the commuting masses on their way to the belly of the city. The sky was tinged pink and orange, and he said a faint “hello”, which barely whispered past his pale lips, to Aurora, mouthed a sweet, small prayer to the goddess, told her this dawn was especially beautiful to him. He then laughed quietly, for he’d never held onto a religion, especially not one whose gods and goddesses numbered too many to recall. Yet a vulnerable part of him meant every word softly formed to Aurora in this fantastic, empty morning.
And hours passed in quiet this way, a thought, a small chuckle, a deep exhale. The wind made loud sucking sounds at the windows as the silver car sped along at a nearly unsafe speed, bordering on a law enforcement infringement, and yet he was oblivious to this, impermeable to anything beside the thoughts winding themselves around him, a pleasant constriction he was not familiar with. In every passing mile, his anticipation grew, swelled with great excitement and made him grin like a fool. The highway, at times, would give way to the coastline, or a rocky outcropping swathed in sagging pines, and the salt and swell would mingle with the air that blew through the car and also his senses. He breathed deeper, said a wholesome greeting to the sea each time it leapt to lick at the side of the expressway. His eyes were brighter, clearer, already, his head was swimming with everything he’d neglected for too long. He likened this tingling feeling to cracking open a fresh notebook, staring at purely white pages, the excitement to begin again was overwhelming. In the natural silence, this vacuum created by the rising sun as he sped along, there were remembrances of venturing into the forest, a younger version of himself pitching a boy scout tent and swimming in a great green lake upstate.
He recalled with a clarity renewed, the red canvas of the first tent he had tried to construct, in the middle of a semi-wilderness- a summer camp experience at age twelve. His fingers felt the knots he had tied, the stakes he had fervently smacked into the earth, and he ached with his whole being now for this. Restlessly shifting, he named aloud the constellations he had scouted out too long ago. The wind stole them and carried them down the roadside cliffs and dropped them into the swelling sea, and the salty smell returned to him in an overpowering wave. He wanted to drive all along this coastline, watching the pale new light slink across the bays and shoals, and for a moment he remembered the nature of this initial drive: To simply get away.
What was to say he couldn’t keep driving up and down the seaside freeway? This puzzled him as he swore nothing else ever had; furrowing his brow he loosened his fingers’ clasp of the steering wheel and leaned back. How? This all came in a crashing realization that he had truly thrown off all restraints and something small in his mind was expanding exponentially, and he was excited. Euphoric, he told himself, staring at the sea. Out the window he wanted to shout “I’ll follow you!” for it seemed the only right thing to do, to tell the coast he would cling to its curves, belong to it solely for what he determined as forever. Because something in the way the waves came down upon the rocks; the way the sea spray scattered itself into the sky and into the pines was enchanting as nothing could ever be. He felt this great body that moved with the universe (even moving the universe itself, perhaps) understood. This ancestral desire to fling himself onto the sand was taking hold of him completely, though he was only partially aware and only partially understanding.
He shook his head in a vain attempt to center his mind, and gain his old sense of clarity instead of this strangely enlightened new vision. Going as far as sticking his head out the window and letting the gusty winds blow his hair back and his eyes open to clear the encroaching sea from his ears, he finally figured he could not. Whatever had shifted inside of him, whatever reaches of himself the sea had found to manipulate he could not reset, could not find again. The dreams of tall, swaying pines were being broken down and hauled away, the memories of boyhood knot-tying and campfire singing were collapsing like that red tent fifteen years ago. The disintegration of his elaborate vision- the hiking, the fishing, the sunshine on the river- which he had carefully constructed as he daydreamed in the high-rise office building months ago was not devastating- and this surprised him the most. This displacement. It was quickly coming into being, quickly assuring him he was doing this thing right. His lofty ideas of “finding himself”, of becoming that elusive nomadic being he had lusted after since he first sat down at the cubicular office desk- he knew how petty this all was.
Following the roadway curves he had slowed, considerably, as these unsettling thoughts jarred him in their continuous advance- the windy sounds had ceased with his near-illegal speeds, and he crawled along the empty freeway, his speedometer just scraping 35. This was alright, he said to himself, this pace was to balance out the impulsiveness wracking his brain.
And the constancy of the sea followed him, and this was startling. The pines and cliffs had long given way to an uninterrupted seaside drive. The waves broke as always- as they had for thousands of years, as far as he was concerned, since the beginning of time, but it felt as though they had never broken quite this way before. Had the patterns in the seafoam always been so prismatic? He tried to assure himself, that of course, the seafoam was always so bright and unending; the colors blending infinitely. But the nagging thought wouldn’t calm, it threw itself against his skull with the rhythm of the sea itself. He was forced to contemplate the array of sea spray, the tessellations occurring in the foam, the dragging of the water across the sands.
As this spun itself out in his brain, he realized in some small capacity, still functioning as he had been only hours ago, that the car was not moving. The silvery sedan sat still and silent in the far lane of the expressway, patient, as if knowing of the sudden enrapture of its driver’s brain. While this was, of course, surprising, it was not alarming, and he began a soft cadence of chuckling which let itself grow into a bout of rambunctious laughter as he sat in the driver’s seat. His sneakered foot reacquainted itself with the accelerator, and he regained some movement forward, or really, parallel to the sea in a direction that did not matter.
What had stricken him so intently as to change his direction completely? This accosting happening within him, this new fascination with the sea, the great rolling body of water lying on his right. He was puzzled- his hands took to shaking as he drove on. At this point, he was not at all sure where he was actually headed. But he was compelled to keep driving, as slowly more cars crept onto the asphalt, and the sun rose higher above him. The once-thought-of silence was now ripped apart by what truly was going on, as it was now constantly thrashing in his head, this tidal action, contiguous with the coastline itself, contiguous now with his body. It didn’t break, as though he had seashells taped to his ears, unable to hear anything beyond the manufactured whooshing of the water. This image stirred up the summer, somewhere, when he was nine, ducking along the oceanic currents in Neponsit. It was the summer he had spent everyday on the beach, in that small neighborhood of Queens- his grandmother lived there, and told him stories about the sailors, about the beach, she told him what she said were Greek sea myths- and he had believed every word, had tried to talk to Poseidon as he swam. But the only answer he ever heard were the gulls overhead and the softly breaking swells along the shore. Even in his sleep he had heard the breaking, the gulls, it echoed inside of him as he laid in bed. His body still victim to the currents and waves, for while he lay still the sea nestled inside of him and moved his small body in its rhythm, as it played like lullabies outside of the window.
Was this emerging again? This internalized rhythm of his youth? Had he swallowed it down as he grew, keeping the sea’s compulsive time within him, only to have it build up and make an escape once he had neared the Atlantic once more? He was drawn here, by something deep inside, some wish to Poseidon, he thought, in a desperate attempt to rationalize this grotesque fascination and longing for the sea. This swelling he felt, the crashing, roiled in his stomach, and as he drove, his hands in their shaking tried to veer themselves left, then right, and he felt himself break into a sweat.
This two weeks was never his, he was never meant to plan how these things manifested themselves, these desires to understand more, to see more, to be able to think new thoughts. A respect blossomed in his chest, spread to his arms and hands and made his vision clearer still, he was breaking through into new territory- he knew this, and it was a glorious feeling he was sure he had never felt before. A surge of adrenaline because he knew this life was falling away, his misgivings and shortcomings, he was forgetting, in the wake of this new jangly feeling- a shiny emotion he was unearthing. It had taken him 27 years, but he did not regret the time in the past, it gave him tents and pines, Neponsit and Poseidon, even the tall silvering high-rise and his particle-board desk. With these things bestowed to him, he had traversed across many planes, but this one,
it bloomed new and passionate, a fiery desire unparalleled, though he could not pinpoint the root of it yet. And he was aware it was time to stop driving, he was everywhere he had needed to be; the sedan swerved onto the next exit ramp and his trembling hands brought him to the edge of the coast.
He breathed and noticed how shakily he did so, how a nervous feeling fell on him, like this was a test, a challenge nobody had prepared him for. He lurched out of the car, stood there before the sea, and just as entering a finicky suburban home, or a temple, took off his shoes before stepping onto the sand, almost reverently.
It occurred to him.
This was really all there was.
He stood and watched the surf, let his feet sink into the sanded shore. Closed his eyes, for the pounding of the sea was incredible and filled every space of his being. For a moment in time, something stopped, not just his shaking breath, but an infinitesimal silence truly rested there, a gaping hole in everything past, everything future. A pause that reconciled the broken pieces in his body, like a slipper shell lying iridescent in the sand. And he felt it right, at this moment, to turn his face to the salt spray, and upstretch his arms as he walked with some magnetism into the sea. And as it enveloped him again, so many years later, it felt the same. And he was nine again, praying to Poseidon, knee-deep in the sea in Neponsit. He let the wind take the sea across his face in a graceful kiss, and the moment lasted so long in his body, his mind worked the silence for an eternity- though once more, the white-crested swells laid themselves down in the sand. And as he was made aware, it was everywhere to him-
Everything was here.