Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ocean Blue, Ocean Deep


They say to never begin the story with a dream. It’s been done to death, it's amateur hour. But what, may I ask, in the best of this world doesn’t trip off a dream's tongue?

I’m on the sands of a southern California beach. My parents are a little bit ahead of me. Dad. Mom. Big. Small. The ocean, stretched out like a mirror on its back, is blue and white, like clouds and sky.

And my mother’s eyes.

The beach was a Mom place. There were Dad places, too, like sitting on his lap in that cigar-yellowed den, getting my cuticles pushed back after he cut the nails. And sometimes the two places intersected, like at the dinner table, where each green bean had to find my mouth, or over a family game of Boggle, where I hunted for the words to gobble and impress. But most places were Mom places, and the beach certainly was.

Don’t those waves just sound like a womb?

I know it’s winter. And the sand is cold on my soles. Even California sun is a little bit sedated in the leaner months. I don’t ask why we’re here. It just feels strong and familiar, as I watch my parents' backs against the long, flat water. Even if I haven’t been back to my birth state in many, many years.

The beach was still a Mom place after we moved to Ohio in 1984. Her parents lived in Yorba Linda, California, and we went back by car each summer. My mom, sister, brother, and I. These were long trips of six weeks or more. Educational, in the truest sense. I tried to count the colored cobs in the South Dakota Corn Palace. I couldn’t forget the Alamo, even if I wanted. The Grand Canyon, Zion, and Yosemite are the Sunday schools I most revere.

And all those good books, gobbled in a car's backseat.

But the beach was always the ultimate destination. Even at ten or eleven, I could claim the glow and rub of nostalgia. The squawks of seagulls the cries of old friends welcoming me back into the flock. The velvet saltiness in the air a favorite, dirty perfume.

Dad turns around, shading his eyes against the sun. I hurry to catch up. He always wanted me to run, not walk.

I have no memory of seeing my dad at the beach. Though there are photos of him looking tolerant enough, while my brother and sister buried him in sand. Some twig of patience for it must have snapped by the time I hit my stride, dragging boogie-board and towel and, as it turned out, never enough sunscreen to prevent beach fever from branding itself on my nose and cheeks for the next few weeks.

They’re both wading in the ocean now. Barefoot, the water shin-high. I’m uncertain, sticking to the shoreline, knowing that cold sand means colder waters.

Why did it never occur to me to ask why my father didn’t come with us? Even when we lived in Ohio, he had an unconventional job that would permit him long stretches of time off. But he never came, and I don’t remember ever wondering why. Maybe I was just relieved. Mom was the tender one. While Dad could emotionally tenderize me.

This was a true vacation, then.

And looking back, I recognize how exceedingly lucky I was. Stupid, drunken dartboard luck. The sort of luck that could only be claimed by another swig of innocence.

The water is warm. Against all odds. The water is the golden state.

I smile at the incongruity. Maybe the ocean isn’t merely a mirror, reflecting the sun’s rays, the cold expectations we harbor and nurse. Maybe it’s a reservoir of unplumbed depths, still capable of holding and surprising.

I’m not sure why some people can’t show their love, the way that others do. But I’ve never really doubted that my father loves me, and with all that he is. For me to expect more of him is to deny the contradictory currents of his true nature.

The path to hell is paved with good intentions? I don’t know. Maybe so. But I'm very far from hell. And the subjective goodness of those intentions has to count for something. This is how I feel today.

Still very lucky. My kids only knowing Mom-and-Dad places.

The water is lucid and clean. I can see my toes wriggling. The bones of shells bedded in their wet grave. Beneath the warm embrace.

I told my dad I loved him the other day. Not a big thing, right? But yeah, it kind of is. It took something nearly tragic for me to admit it to him. And he didn’t say it back. But he let me kiss him on his cheek without it being too awkward. I think he appreciated it.

Anyway, it was something I could do. He always preached personal responsibility. But it's my gospel to interpret.

The water remains blue and white, as I wade further into its depths. Like my mother’s eyes. Mine, too. 

Blue eyes are a recessive trait. My father’s eyes are brown. But he carries the gene, buried deep inside his cells, and he gifted it to me.

I had other dreams last night, ones that were less kind. But this is the one I choose to remember. This is the one that makes me salty with something better than nostalgia. And this is the one that makes me smile.


Karen said...

Over the years, Sarah, I have come to the realization that we are who we are and no amount of wishing or praying will ever change who someone else is. That your father cannot speak his love is of him, not of you. That you know he loves you and that you accept his nature, speaks volumes about you. I am happy for your own children. You know how blessed they are.

catvibe said...

I read the entire thing first, then I went back and read only the dream. When I read the entire thing, I was filled with sadness and pain, and when I read the dream only I was filled with joy. In my poem Couplet for a Secret Lover (which you read before the dream ;-), I spoke of 'God, The Water'. Here, the water seems to represent that love and liquid connection that transcends human dramas and unites us as One. I was full of smiles when I read it Sarah. What an amazing and wonderful dream.

catvibe said...

Well that was just a tad presumptuous, you didn't actually say 'when' you had that dream. My bad. :-)

Sarah Hina said...

Karen, I don't think I've always accepted his nature. (Okay, I know I haven't.) But I think I've been coming to the same realization that you have. To fight against someone's character, and only feel the rub of loss, is the one, sure way of denying love where it still exists. We can only be truly responsible for ourselves, in the end.

Thank you, Karen. Your words are always deep and good. :)

Cat, it's funny, because I only saw the joyful parts while writing it.

But you're right. I didn't want to deny the reality of a complicated relationship, but at the same time, I recognize how blessed I was to have the childhood I did. I felt a lot of warmth towards my dad in the dream. That's not unearned.

I had the dream last night, so maybe it was inspired by your beautiful poem! :) I've read before that water represents emotion in dreams. And there was definitely something transcendent in its depths.

Stephen Parrish said...

My dad's the same way. I think it's a common affliction. In fact, I'm a dad and it's not in my nature to say "I love you" either; I have to remind myself. Because I don't want my daughter to end up like you, ha ha.

By the way, that writing thing, yer doing it gud.

David Cranmer said...

"Cigar-yellowed den" brought back memories of my own past.

My dad and I were never able to say I love you until the very end. And with all the tears that day, I knew we had shown it in our own special way through the years. He passed away in 2005 and there's not a week that goes by that I don't think of him and mouth a silent "I love you, dad."

Beautiful post Sarah. Thank you.

Charles Gramlich said...

Dreams are so much a part of my world that I couldn't leave them out of my writing if I tried. There'd be no richness. This is wonderfully rich.

Anonymous said...

So very beautiful, Sarah. I read it twice to savor it even more.

Sarah Hina said...

Steve, I don't think it's just about saying it, or hearing it. We want people to show us love in the same way we feel comfortable demonstrating it. But that's likely expecting too much. And sometimes we don't recognize their way of showing it as a result.

As for your daughter, I suspect she knows darn well how much she's loved. Like she also knows that she can beat her father at chess (ha ha).

David, thanks so much for sharing that. I think these emotions swim much deeper than words most of the time. It's the old adage again: show, don't tell. I'm sure your dad knew how much you loved him.

Charles, I'm dreaming most of my life away. And I'm okay with that. :) Thank you!

Wiredwriter, I really appreciate your kind words. And I just realized I never got back to your email about your zine! I'm so sorry. It's been a crazy week. I'll check it out soon, though. :)

the walking man said...

How is it that any story does not begin with a dream? That you melded the dream seamlessly into the written reality makes the dream a necessary component of the dreamers soul being able to be found in her understanding.

Dream on no matter where you find them and now matter how you incorporate them.

It is a good thing to find the proper symbiosis between the imagined and the real.

K.Lawson Gilbert said...

How carefully we weave our way through dreams and reality. Our dreams are a kind of reality, too, aren't they? They give us a chance to figure things out and to wander emotionally.

This is such an honest and open piece of writing. It has a memoir quality to it. I love the way you present it here.

"Maybe the ocean isn’t merely a mirror, reflecting the sun’s rays, the cold expectations we harbor and nurse. Maybe it’s a reservoir of unplumbed depths, still capable of holding and surprising."

This is simply captivating - and I do think it is both of those things that you so skillfully described. The ocean - so much like any one of us.

Nevine said...

Sarah, this is a side of you that I don't think I've ever known before. Most of what I have read from you has not been personal, so this is a first for me. I always think that when we write about ourselves, and when we write about what's real, we write best. We know who we are, though sometimes we might think we don't. You do know yourself, and you know your family, and you know your father. And that is why this piece rings like a bell, though it is peaceful and quiet.

There are two things going on. There is a piece of history that is being revisited, a piece of the past that helps you understand. And it feels and reads like a dream. And there is also the present, with its objective, though emotional, voice.

Reading this, now, I feel like I know Sarah... like I've met you, and known you forever. And that part about the recessive gene that you inherited... it sings of that stretch that exists between father and daughter despite the tender love.

Quite simply, I loved this.


Aniket said...

The first time I visited home after moving out, my Dad gave me a tight hug and wiped off a tear. Nothing needed to be said, nor told.

Dads are mostly built that way. And us lots, well we can't ever have enough of words can we? We'll always crave for more.

Everything in the whole wide world comes down to only two things:
1. The string theory
2. The epic battle of showing vs telling. :D :D

You are a kind, kind soul. We can tell.

Sarah Hina said...

Mark, yes, balance is critical. You're such a fine example of that.

I spent much of my life trying to suppress dreams that felt wrong. Or out of reach. Writing erases the needs for such boundaries. It's keeping writing separate from real life that seems key. Contentment can be found in both worlds.

Kaye, I really enjoyed writing this piece. It felt very self-oriented, but in a different, more positive way from a lot of my stuff. And yes, dreams are endlessly fascinating to me. They are the true ocean depths.

Thank you so much for your warm words here. It's so good to see you again!!

Nevine, you made me smile again. Thank you so much for that. I'm glad this piece made you feel close to me. So often, while reading your work, I have that uncanny sense of seeing my mind reflected in someone else.

My family has been on my mind a lot lately. And in my dreams. I think it started with my grandfather's illness (he's actually doing better, which I'm very grateful for). Anyway, I've been feeling both the truth behind the old saying--that past is prologue--while also sensing that it doesn't have to be. I'd like to keep exploring the latter path.

Aniket, it takes one to know one. :) You are among the kindest people I've ever known. I bet your Dad knows it, too.

When you have string theory figured out, lemme know, k? Because I know you're already becoming a pro at that second one.

Chris Eldin said...

I married someone like that. It goes deeper than the loss of words... there's also a loss of presence. That even when he's around, he's not really in tune with the people around him. There was a period of time (a long one) where I tried to "help" him. He's a good person. But, my kids know only the "Mom" places, really. There are a few outings with "Dad" that I think they'll remember. I try very hard to be in the moment, for them, and make up for the rest. I suspect that's what your mom did, and it seems she did it well. Don't underestimate the cost to her for this feat...

Sarah Hina said...

Chris, believe me, I don't. Being a mom myself, I'm constantly comparing myself to her...and often coming up short. I was truly blessed.

I think it's an empathy, or perception, deficit with my father, and maybe your husband, too. But I know how deeply committed you are to your children's happiness, Chris, and I don't doubt that they'll feel as blessed as I do someday.