in the summer of 1987 i went to the beach almost every day. it was me and Dion usually, but sometimes his two cousins would come with us (they lived in the richmond district, just a few blocks from the coast). the water was always cold, and we would challenge each other to just run towards it and dive under one of the small, cresting waves that broke close to the shore, promising that the initial shock would dissipate by the time we emerged from the water. this was only half true, you could get used to the chill quicker by diving straight in, but it took more than just that one first dive to do it. it took two or three, and time spent wading in the strong, salty sea, before your body finally calmed and the goose pimples settled. it was more common for us to slowly walk into it, first allowing our ankles to adjust to the temperature, then our shins, then our thighs, and finally our waist, before we would take the plunge into the curling surf.
once inside though, we would splash around for hours, searching the ocean floor with our hands and feet, catching the breaking waves with our bodies, and battling with the undercurrent. the northern pacific is a beastly body of water, unforgivably murky in areas with a merciless tow beneath. sometimes we would get pummeled by a wave and find ourselves violently rolling along the sandy floor and then, after coming up for a panic of air, being dragged back out to sea by the strength of the waters bottom pull. but this was a danger we were aware of and ignored. just another element of the fun.
when i became a teenager i would still go to the beach but at this point it wasnt the water i looked to for excitement. it was where friends and i would gather for isolation, away from the prying eyes of the law. we would bring stolen alcohol in our book bags and try to find mischief in hushed laughter and illegal bonfires. girls were involved then, and the strongest undertow was our hormonal urges. we would go at night, when nothing else but the homeless and their hidden tents or similar, makeshift teen parties occupied the beach. sometimes we would see couples watching the moon glow above the rising tide, finding romance in its lunar reflection, and we would sit and stare at them, whispering quietly to each other, waiting in hopes that they would have sex.
it wasnt until my first trip to san diego that i found out ocean water could be warm and inviting. it was there, in my early twenties, that i fell in love with the cleansing effect of a quick dip in the sea. i was staying at a house directly across the street from the beach and would wake early in the morning, still half drunk and sweating out chemicals from the night before, then lean as i walked to the ocean. i would dive straight into the water, dolphin kicking a few yards beneath the waves, before i emerged fully wake, ready for another day. i wouldnt even bring a towel with me, nor would i wear a shirt. the sun would dry me off. id simply surface from the water and walk towards my slippers. after sliding them on i would stand and watch the epic movements of the water, the surfers riding along the rolling white caps, the waves deep into the horizon, breaking with the currents. i would take a few breaths, inhaling the wet, salty air, and appreciate just where i was in life at that particular moment.
when i went to hawaii the water was unimaginable. the beach culture was so deeply ingrained with the land that it was hard to separate the people from the sand. every road led to the ocean, most every action brought you to the beach. the water was so warm and clear and filled with beauty you would have thought it was made by man, solely for vacations. i spent almost every waking hour, nights as well, in the water. you would wake and go to the water, then eat and go back to the water, then have a few drinks and go back to the water. there was no dangerous undercurrent, no hesitancy before diving in. i went skinny dipping at midnight and there was romance and adventure beading up from every pore. the water was like a womb. i never wanted to leave it.
now it is 2010 and im in front of my computer and im half a month late on rent and the hot gray sky is falling down on brooklyn and all i want is to escape. i want to go to a beach and look out onto the horizon and see the earth curve away. i want to feel the celestial glow of a warm quiet night. i want to be far far away, watching as the planet rises up to swallow the sinking sun.