As I stand in the place where the ocean and land meet, I have the overwhelming desire to go home. Myrtle Beach is just not the same. The sand isn’t right. The color of the ocean is all wrong. Where are the little birds that peck at the creatures hidden in the sand, the ones that run forward when the waves recede and back again when the waves roll in? The ones that I used to chase at home? Finding that sweet spot where their meals are most exposed between the waves, rejoicing with their high-pitched squawks. Or maybe they were just mad at me for interfering.
It doesn’t escape me that the ocean is where I long to go to for escape. The ocean is home, but not just any ocean will do, it seems, because I’m here, feet being soothed by the waves like warm blood flowing back into veins and arteries. Heartbeat. Lifeblood. The ocean. Only I just want to go home and it’s not here.
It doesn’t escape me that I was here almost a year ago, standing the same way, in almost the exact same spot after my mother died. Just weeks before, I tried to bring her back, but I couldn’t. I tried desperately to breathe life into her, watching her blue eyes turn grey, like the ocean at sunset, becoming dimmer and unfocused, blurring the lines between life and death, day and night.
My ocean lies in a town sandwiched between the uber wealthy and the uber fabulous, Fort Lauderdale on one side and West Palm Beach on the other. My hometown is like an awkward middle child, a little left out, a little forgotten, a little underestimated.
The sand here, where I am standing, is like fine powder, it sticks to everything, but the sand on my beach isn’t really sand at all. If you look closely, it is a billion broken seashells, the edges rubbed smooth by the brutal forces of the sea. The pieces of shells are bigger than sand, heartier, more substantial. The ocean itself is bluer, warmer, and teeming with life. That is my home. It’s rhythmic waves my heartbeat, it’s salty sea my lifeblood.
Home is permanent sandal tan lines. Sun-kissed blond highlights in wind-whipped hair. Bike rides to the beach with a mini pink boombox hanging from the handlebars playing Bon Jovi on the tape deck. Buying cigarettes from the rusty vending machine with pull handles. Watching the shirtless tanned boy with long hair playing football with his rowdy friends from afar, Faith looking at me and saying, “I want that one,” and me replying, “No, that one’s mine.”
And he was for a while, until he wasn’t anymore.
But that was a long time ago and I haven’t been home in ages. No reason to go back now. There’s nothing there for me.
I left because of my work. My residency took me to North Carolina. I wanted to go. I wanted to leave home. And I did. I left everyone and everything. Even the tan boy with long hair. Who was now a man, with a clean cut, and a job, who didn’t want to go along for the ride.
My work. Oh how I struggle with my choices. I stare at the ocean. Please, God, give me the answers. The ocean and God don’t seem to be listening to me, but I’ll wait.
The day that my mother died was my day off. I didn’t spend it with her. I spent it at the corporate hive finding out why they thought I wasn’t doing my charts right. It took months to get an answer. Back and forth. Back and forth. Cancelled meetings, rescheduled, my apologies, can’t make it this week, until finally, I said, “I’ll drive the 2 hours to you.” I needed to face my accusers. In the end, it was silly. Pointless. My “mistakes” meaningless to me or the patient, but cost the corporation, apparently. I didn’t write enough. I didn’t charge enough. I needed to do more. Because doing more gets them paid more.
That night my mother died. And the corporation never sent me a card or an arrangement.
In the beginning, my motives were simple. I wanted to help people. Not just anyone, either, but people who really needed it. The people that maybe weren’t the wealthy and fabulous, but somewhere sandwiched in between, forgotten. I left the boy, the dog, the house, the family, the sea, and I went. It was idyllic at first, but after a while, we got gobbled up, like the little sea creatures being plucked out from between the tides by those birds. I guess I gave up chasing them away a long time ago.
Home. The sea resides within me. I take it wherever I go, it’s molecules intertwined in my DNA. I never really left it and it never left me. The broken sea shells tossed about and worn smooth, the deep blue hues, the life beneath the surface, the warmth of the sun on brown skin, this is my home, this is my heart, this is who I am, I haven’t been beaten. The tide always rolls back again.