Pause

April has 58 days after which it can’t go on. And so on.

There’s a Pandemic sentiment if ever I heard one.

This essay was the first thing I ever read by Mary Ruefle. It led me to fall instantly and completely in love with her writing. I looked it up today for the umpteenth time because today was a crying day and I needed the comfort of looking at her April Cryalog from 1998.

A page from Mary Ruefle's diary with April's Cryalog written across the top. All the days of the week are listed with various numbers of Cs next to them to indicate the number of times she did or didn't cry on any given day in the month.

I think about these pages constantly. They’re perfect. Absurd and reassuring and daunting and mundane all at once. A record of the the lunar cycles of emotion that govern how we intersect with friends, lovers, parents, strangers. I gave up trying to blog every time I got in the sea or the river and now I just make a little notation on my calendar—a tiny wave. Maybe that’s a Cryalog too.

Anyway, remember:

Happy old age is coming on bare feet, bringing with it grace and gentle words, and ways which grim youth have never known.

Second Plunge

It’s no good. The sea’s too shallow here—too full of hazardous rocks. I’m threading my way through pudgy, puckered anemones sunk flush with the surface of the sand. It’s getting dark. My car’s parked in a 24-minute parking spot and I’ve already been out here for at least 15.1 I should call it. But I’ll feel bad if I call it. But I should call it.

I try walking down the beach instead, just to feel like I’m choosing something. I know there’s a stretch where the sand smooths out into a gentler and more welcoming crescent, but I misjudge the distance and end up equally far from both my car and the better beach. I jog back along the boardwalk, cursing my indecision through my mask.

I spend several minutes in the car caught in The Waffle—the dreaded space where I justify and wheedle and drive myself batty with excuses and alternatives—until my Wise Self barges in.

You’re not seriously going to drive all the way home and go to bed knowing that you were right here and didn’t do this thing that you KNOW always fills you with an unstoppable sense of power and joy, are you?

Monstrous harpy.

I drive the five minutes down the waterfront, throw the car in the parking lot of the hotel from Little Miss Sunshine, and march past everyone enjoying the last glimmers of sunset. I have a covenant to keep.

I’m bolder with my strip down/stride in routine this time—almost too bold; I nearly enter the water still wearing my mask. A quick return trip to my pile of belongings and I’m running back into the breakers. The water is easy and delicious. It’s not even that cold. Six waves pass before I plunge under the seventh. I stand there staring at the tiniest sliver of a new moon rising on my right for what feels like hours.

She’s right. I’ve never regretted this. Two for two.

A glowing beach at sunset. There are shallow, reflective waves moving up the shore. The sky is apricot at the horizon grading slowly into deep blue. On the right, a headland with palm trees silhouetted against the sky. There's a tiny sliver of moon rising.

1. Why only 24 minutes? Such a specific number. Remind me to look that up later on whatever civic planning blog is nearest.

First Plunge

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.

A gleaming ocean at sunset. The sky is blue fading into fiery apricot at the horizon.