I brought them, my sons, to a place with a wild tropical ocean because I wanted them to feel the wheel of its waters softly rolling around their ankles. I wanted them to know the unsteadying of their sturdy bodies as the sand was pulled out from under their feet. I wanted them to know joy in the ocean’s unpredictability. I wanted them to be tossed around, their thoughts and perceptions jumbled. And I wanted them to learn that, even when we nurture a vigilance and a steadiness, there are waves that stalk the shore, that spring up suddenly and flatten us.
One cannot say to the ocean, Come this far but no further. One cannot say to the waves, Grow this tall but no taller.
And myself? What did I want? I wanted to see the rise of the mountains. I wanted to feel the rainy season rains that fall with purpose, stopping as suddenly as they began. I wanted to live the surprise of nature, presenting itself without pretense or order– a ceiling covered with geckos, watching an iguana watch a turkey vulture watching us.
The man said there were crocodiles in the river and if you lifted a stone to the steel frame of the bridge, you could summon them. I didn’t want to summon crocodiles. I wanted to see monkeys, the kind that bark like big dogs, that grunt like wild pigs.
I wanted to see if there was possibility, the possibility of returning to a landscape I knew in my youth, one of exquisite color, one of sounds echoing, and one of thick fragrance trapped in the humid air.
Mostly, I wanted to know if I could return to a place like this, not as a daughter or a sister or a wife, but as a self who doesn’t find beauty in the blocks of the neighborhood houses and lawns, all sleek and square and even, an order that blunts the possibility of surprise. And my boys, I wanted them to know about fierce beauty.
I can’t say how this will set up in their memories. I can say that my youngest son was churned in the ocean waves, was beat up without the malice of fists or feet. My older son, with his all-seeing swim goggles bound tightly to his face, was pummeled and thrown to shore and his goggles were ripped off his head.
He went looking for them.
“You won’t find them,” I said.
And my boys looked at me as if I was the ocean, but we walked the beach anyway. I could not interest them in the tide pools, in the tree growing on top of the ocean rock.
“I need my goggles,” my son said, like once he needed his blanket in order to fall asleep.
“Go get the other pair,” I said, and they, my young sons, walked off while I distractedly climbed a rock.
Then they vanished.
Were they playing a trick? Had they unwittingly taken on the unpredictability of the ocean? No, the sun must’ve gotten to my brain because they didn’t play tricks like that. Would they have gone back into the ocean and gotten pulled out? Both of them? Oh God, I thought, then my life is over. And I walked and looked and I walked and looked. It occurred to me that I’ve been doing this my whole life.
I will not see a monkey, but a guacamaya will fly over my head and let fall a scarlet feather, which will spin in circles around my vision until I catch it. Any my boys will not be carried out to sea and my life will not be over. With hazy vision and the slow realization of distance, of shoreline walked, they, too, will return.