I’m pulling into Santa Barbara, 940 miles of highway behind me, as the sun dips low to the west. On my right: occasional glimpses of the sea, tantalizing and unreal, but ahead there’s only bumper-to-bumper traffic.
I’m racing the clock as I inch through Montecito, drumming my fingers on the steering wheel. The sun’s fully below the horizon by the time the cars thin out, but there’s still time. I’m navigating by instinct across overpasses and down twisty back roads. I’m ignoring the sign that says “Park Closes at 5:30” (it is after 6) and flinging my car across two spaces in my haste to get out. I’m scrambling toward this place I’ve been coming to since I was 3 because I am giddy with disbelief and this is where I need to go to know it’s real.
James calls right as I reach the edge of the sandstone cliff. The sea is mirror-bright and full of sunset. I show him my view (an inadequate FaceTime mockery) and babble about the impossibility of it all. The prickly scrub is catching at my ankles as I stare out at this thing I’ve been unable to feel like I deserve to be near for so long. I realize there’s no time for talking, make my apologies, hang up, and start running down the slanted track to the sand.
There’s barely anyone on the beach as I kick off my shoes. The light’s failing. Everything smells of salt and woodsmoke.
Up close, the colors in the sky and the immensity of the water make me dizzy. I feel simultaneously tiny and expansive. Opening. Unfolding.
What’s the rule?
If I am near a body of water and I can feasibly get into it, I must get into it.
I didn’t think to grab my towel—or my bathing suit, for that matter—but I don’t really care. There isn’t time. I strip to my underwear as the dark closes in and stride toward the water. The sand is gleaming blue with light. The waves are gentle at first, waist high and cold, but I’ve braved worse. I can’t believe I’m here. I shuffle my feet, wary of stingrays, and move deeper, chattering to myself. To the water. To the sunset.
“Hello. Wow. Hi, hello. Oh my god. Hello. I missed you. Okay. Woof. Okay. Okay okay okay here we go. Here we FUCKING GO—“
And then I am under the onrushing breakers and nothing matters anymore. I am not cold. I am not alone. I am not uncertain.
I come up laughing, and I am home.