Saturday, May 16, 2015

Twinkles in the Sea

When I was five, I choked on a lemon drop. It happened in summer on the front porch of our house in Ocean City, New Jersey. I breathed in too hard while running around, and that little yellow cap turned into a death pebble. The front door had latched shut from the inside, and by then my parents were around back on the beach. I banged and rang the bell, but no one heard against the loud wash of the ocean. The drop lodged in, and me locked out. I grew desperately faint and began seeing electric white dots floating around...

At the last minute, the gods intervened. Earlier, our neighbor had dropped a sock outside while taking down wash from the clothesline. Had she not come back to retrieve it, she wouldn’t have seen to administer the Heimlich maneuver, and you wouldn’t be reading this. (If I publish a memoir, it’ll be titled The Sock that Saved Me.)

Seriously shaken, I had my first nightmare that evening. In my dream, I was in the basement of the house. A thin but opaque fog obscured the ground. It seemed like walking on wet sand, though, and I could feel gritty saltwater coursing around my bare, reluctant feet. When I reached the center of the room, an area of fog cleared and a faceless pair of eyes opened in the floor: androgynous, intense, unstable. For a moment they regarded me favorably and relaxed into a smiling, reassuring expression. Then, as starkly as my afternoon play had turned to peril, those grinning eyes turned on me and squinted into a threatening, sinister taunt as if to say, "How'd ya like that candy, Marty pants?"

I awoke like an exclamation point. I’d been sleeping in a bunk on the third floor, so there were two sets of stairs between me and my parents on the ground level. In that state of wired fear, running down each step felt too slow to escape the disturbing afterimage pursuing me, so I jumped down both flights one after the other, my anxiety covering the pain. At last, I found Barb and Bob Graff in the living room watching a horror movie about killer ants, a consolation compared to the trailer that had played in my mind.

*          *          *

To this day, the ocean remains a positive, spiritual place for me. The age, size, and grand rhythms of the open water inspire me like no other setting.  Immense and healing.  On multiple coasts and continents, I’ve long stood breathing it in, tuning in to its ancient white noise, inviting the busy choreography of its sun-speckled surface to trigger vast, healing daydreams, feeling the full potential of my existence. But under the magic there’s a threat, a lethal undertow swirling with pincers, stingers, carnivorous appetites, toxic industrial detritus...

And that aquatic, psychotic whatever-it-is that haunts my brittle confections.

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  1. but how do you feel about lemon drops?
    do you have a warm fuzzy place in your heart (or first aid kit) for socks?

  2. I hold nothing against the lemon drop: it was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. : - | >