Objects in water appear larger than they actually are as the light refracts even in the clearest of island waters. They are also not exactly where they think they are, you reach out to grasp something but like a toddler learning about distance and space, your hand reaches out, nothing.
Floating off shore, I think of this as I pull the shells out of the bag and watch them tumble back down to the sandy floor of the ocean. They grow larger here, and distant. And I hear what my friend told me.
“Make sure you make a wish when you put the shells back into the sea,” she tells me. “You have to make a wish.”
The shells are white, crisp, clear, a wave breaks over me, I pull more out of the bag.
“You have to make a wish.”
After collecting shells for weeks, the deck table is piled high, too many to take home. We select the ones we want, whittle down the collection, some for one friend, some more for another. The unwanted went in a large bag that I float with now, a wave pushes me in, pulls me out.
Each shell we pulled out of this sea, on this deserted beach. My daughter sits on a piece of driftwood, my son floats nearby, no one else is on our beach, no one to see us return the shells to the sea. No one there to help me make my wish.
“You have to….”
Four more shells float down.
“Make a wish.”
A wish. A wish per shell I wonder? Or one wish for all the shells, more pile out of the bag, floating, twisting, landing. You can hear the clicking of the shells as the waves push them up, then back. I had never heard of this, but it makes sense. Then again, I never had collected this many shells, on a beach like this and had cause to return some. So I believe her.
A wish? I’ll have to think.
Wishes used to be easy. My daughter wants to be able to fly. My son wants to play for the Red Sox. They both want a million dollars, thinking that’s all the money in the world. They both want dogs, breed under constant discussion.
Wishes don’t seem quite so easy any more.
You think as the light sparkles through the clear clear water, dancing light on the sand, on your shells, about your pending wish. Wishing for money at this point in life seems a bit simple, trite and it’s not really what you need. Perhaps you should spend your wish on wishing for world peace, but you’ve seen too much to waste your wish, especially if the rule is only one wish no matter how many shells you return to the sea.
Should you wish for love? In general? Specifically? One woman? No, you can’t wish for love. Love isn’t a wish-list kind of thing, love is pushed and pulled away from you, a wave brings it, a wave takes it away, floating, floating is how you find love.
You float towards a person, each of you controlled by your actions and desires but also each controlled by a stronger ocean, the tide, the moon, stars. If the wind is right, the current your friend, you pass by them, close enough to touch. Two people in this vast blue, connecting for an instant, hands outreached.
Sometimes you float together, you and her, and when you do, it’s so easy, perfect, simple, clear. But when one floats this way and the other that, you can fight the tide and the wind and the sea, you can fight, you can try. You can try. But like my dad used to tell me, the old Navy officer, ‘the ocean always wins.”
Remember when it was so easy? Comically so. Hi, hello. You smile, she laughs. Drink someday? Now? Tonight? You call, she answers, she calls, you answer. You don’t know where in the world she is, you text “Hi.” She texts back, instantly “Hi.”
That was before this and that. Before the conversations and the talks. Before you realized what she had been through, what she was going through. It was before letters and flowers and late nights. Before birthdays and snapped-off conversations. Before days and weeks apart and before days and weeks back together. It was when you floated together, dove deep together. It was then.
You hear her now, you understand her point, you’re wonderfully reasonable. You understand, really, yes I do. No I don’t. Wait.
The winds change, the tide shifts, you lose your footing in the sand and push against the water, the sea. You try and go further, deeper, left, right, onto the beach, somewhere somehow, she started to float a different way, direction, place.
You hold on, you swim harder, breath deeper, working hard to capture, re-capture, find again, make amends, create ideas, moments, places, something anything, you push pull. The wave comes over you.
You grow tired, the waves keep coming, the salt on your tongue, your arms ache, but you remember, her kiss, the softness of it, the laughter on the line, making love, her eyes, her feet, you remember passion, love, intimacy, it’s distant now, farther back, but gone? No it can’t be gone. It kills you to remember. Stop.
What if, maybe I should, I know what I can do. You try and try again, and wonder and try again. Is that her voice in the water? The waves.
You hate her, that’s silly, she hasn’t done anything wrong, she was honest, truthful fair, what more could you want the fish on my left asks me? She was true to you even if it wasn’t what you wanted. She loves you, she loves you, not now, can’t you see, just not here, she is floating there, over there, around here somewhere.
Let her float, let her be. You smile. You love her, hate her. Miss her, never think of her.
A wave pushes you down, bubbles float up, peaceful, the clicking of the shells, she gave you her email before you asked for it, when was that a year? Two ago?
The water closes in on you, you see just the sand, the bubbles, the waves are stronger, the will less so. The wave surprises you, it arrived too fast, it won’t let you up, you mistimed it, instead you are pushed down, deep, too deep, the last shell spills out of the bag, your lungs burn, it’s pressure, the timing off, everything hurts, you struggle up, a wish?
Wisdom, the ability to see, the wisdom to know that love can not be contained, explained, owned, predicted, or understood. All you can hope for is to have it, maybe have it again, all you can hope for, but today, tomorrow, who knows, the water darkens.
In the waves, under the water, as the light dances, it feels as love is a shell, hard, fragile, easily broken, found one day when floating, lost, returned to the sea.
“You have to make a wish.”
One moment it’s there in your hand, the next it’s just out of reach, larger than you thought it was, not exactly where it seemed to be and then it’s gone, gone, and all you can do is let it go, wish it well, cherish the memory, let it go, spinning, floating, disappearing, refracted.
Where did that last shell go? You start to go back down but you can’t.
You pull yourself up before the next wave comes.