I woke up dreaming about the beach, or rather, about the drive to the beach, the drive to St. George. I was thinking about the blue store in Carabelle where we stop to pee, and how there used to be a Greek restaurant across the street and an old broken down house right next to it and one time I looked at that house all covered in palm fronds and lizards and thought I could hide out there sometime and right at that moment a great horrible cloud of insects, a plague of locusts rose up out of it, hovered, and flew off into the sky. This morning I couldn't remember if that Greek restaurant is still there, if the house exists, I couldn't remember the last time I drove to the beach. It bothered me.
I could be wrong but I think the last time was the trip to Panama City for my brother's birthday in June, which doesn't seem right but I can't recall another trip so there you go. A sin against God, I think. To live so close to all that heaven and not drive there more often than once a year.
That trip I rode in the car with a young man named Shane because we had a couple of cars going and that was the smoking car. I got to ride shotgun while two pretty girls sat in the back and talked their girl talk and blew smoke out the windows. We drank sodas and one thing I remember about that is Shane's use of the word "duke" in reference to shit and I thought "poop-a-duke" and I hummed "Duke of Earl" the whole way.
That was a good trip, a fine trip to the beach, but still. It wasn't St. George and it was only the one time. There was a time for a few years that whenever I would go a little crazy I would take the drive. It was when the pressure in my head would start to build up, like when school was too much and work was too many hours and whatever boyfriend was there was either too heavy or not around and the crazy would just start closing in around me until I felt like I could only see but pinpricks of light through a round and focused darkness and I'd turn those blinders south and drive like hell to the gulf before the light disappeared altogether. It worked somehow. I'd start to feel the pressure lessen as soon as I got on the bridge and by the time I made it, flying through all that sky across all that blue and sparkling water I could breathe and the breath I pulled in with great relieving thirsty lungfuls was wet and salty and tasted faintly of shrimp.
My mother always said the saltwater could heal wounds and if we were cut or injured in some way we were encouraged to go in and let the waters curl all up against us. She took me to St. George after I'd had a bone graft taken from my hip and put in my leg that had been broken in an accident. The leg wasn't healing well, it had been something like six months since they originally put my bones back inside my skin and there were still gaps where they had to take out the smaller broken bits. After the bone graft my leg was doing fine but the incision along my hip bone had become bloated and infected and had burst magnificently at prom, yellow custard streaked water cascading down my leg and into my borrowed black boot. I'd stuffed napkins in between my dress and the wound and went on with the dance but still, a hole had opened up in my side and that would not stand so the next day Mama took me to the ocean.
That summer she rented a tiny cinderblock apartment on the island and pretty much stayed there with the little girls. Daddy went down on the weekends and I came and went as I wished because I was older and I had friends to be with in town. I was trying to train myself out of my limp and so I put bells around my ankles so I could listen to the rhythm as I walked, and I remember the sound as I walked from the apartment to the water. Jingle...JINGLE! jingle...JINGLE! all the way to the water's edge. Then silence.
I still go crazy but now with one thing or another I don't end up going to the beach. It's better when I do. People keep telling me not to isolate so much and that I should reach out when I need help and for the past couple of years I've been trying to do that and I guess it's helped more or less. I'm still out in the free world, still working, still paying rent and the lights are still on and I'm not drinking. People tell you to reach out and then they feel good about helping you and they get to give you advice and they walk away happy because hey, at least they aren't as crazy as you are. I know, I've been on the helping side too. It's good to touch crazy every once and a while. To be helped in that way does calm you down. But it's like putting a bandage on and sending you back out into the fight. Here you go, try not to bleed on anyone. Stuff some napkins in your prom dress and get back on out there. It doesn't wash you clean.
When you get in the ocean, when I get in the ocean, I can't help but feel how small I am. I wade into the water and sink down into the waves, and my knees go weak and my muscles go slack and this great and powerful thing, this monstrous god-belly of water just holds me and rocks me and doesn't ask questions. All that is busy in my head goes as flat as the horizon and what enters me is the birds that fly over head, the sand that brushes over my feet, the water that doesn't leave me alone and I am not one person I am soup, I am salt, I am sky. My broken mind and heart become the same and as beautiful as the broken shells on the beach and I grow at once entangled in the world and unencumbered by it. Pain falls away. Heartache falls away. Worry falls away. I become mind clean. And when I climb out and come back into the thick of daily life some of all that stays with me for a while and holds me separate and stronger. But with time, like anything, that drifts away too. Water never stays in one place for long.
When I was a child I thought I would grow up and go live at the beach. I'm all grown up now and I can feel that child in me stern and disappointed. I would do it but I wonder, if you live at the beach where do you go if you go crazy? Do you then dream of desert? I lived in the desert once, it was barren and dead to me. I felt like the sun wanted to kill my bones.
I don't know if I ever will live at the beach. Some people live their childhood dreams and some people just live and dream, and I dream I dream I dream. I have shells on my shelves, I have cornflakes on my floor, and a cat that sleeps and I love her when she sleeps. And I have crazy in me that will rise like a plague of locusts around my head and because of that I know I'll take that drive and wash in those waters and get flat and quiet and small. This summer will be hot as it always is and the bugs will scream in the high grass and the sound will remind me inexplicably of dirty boys in cracker shacks doing drugs as it always does and the waste of it, the shimmering heat and the waste of this town with it's roadside beer cans and ragged women will get heavy in me. When it does I'll drive south, I'll stop and pee at the blue store, I'll open my windows and taste the air as it changes. When you live so close it is a sin not to go. We make excuses to stay in our craziness and all those excuses mean nothing, not when beauty is right there. Not when all you have to do is step away, and you can turn your face toward heaven.