It's pretty here, except for the rigs dotting the horizon. I just called them oil rigs when we first got here, but my brother-in-law told me they were natural gas. I nodded. I don't mind making sweeping generalizations about things like that. They pump fuel out of the ground. I don't need specifics. My sister-in-law said, "Whatever the hell they are, they are blocking my view."
I have never swam in the Gulf of Mexico, though I have swam in the Caribbean Sea. It looks like the same body of water on a map, but technically, I suppose it isn't. Another sweeping generalization I don't mind making. It is a salty body of water south of the United States. There is some international boundary, or tide and streams and whatnot that make them different, I suppose. An invisible line we cross from gulf to sea. I have been spending my mornings holding a baby in the gulf. Despite my fears of oil contaminants and who-ha and whatsits floating invisibly to bore into our skin and sicken us all, the ocean is warm. I know that from direct experience now. There are no real waves, so the girl can swim and jump and play, and the tide won't drag her out to sea. Not having my child dragged out to sea is a definite bonus. Beezus is building sand castles with her cousins, and looking for shells, and telling me her lips are salty. She loves being amongst a group of kids that look like her. I hear them playing, she is the princess they help save. She is the baby. She is the fairy. I love seeing all these people around her that love her. That trumps it all, any complaint my petty, warped little mind can manifest is eradicated by seeing her (and Thor) so adored. When she gets tired of the sea, we walk to the condo, and swim in a saltwater pool. We cuddle and read stories and eat berries.
The beach patrol, the other afternoon, rode up and down the beach, speaking through a loud speaker, looking for a nine-year old child. "Are you hiding, John Doe? Come out. Please raise your hands." Later they stopped asking the boy to raise his hand, and asked anyone if they had seen the boy, which is how I know that he was nine and wearing red swimming trunks. There are no lifeguards, just people watching their people. I complain about the small area you are allowed to swim at the Jersey shore. The beach fee. And the people sandwiched in like sardines, but there is something comforting about another set of eyes.
Water is water. The saltiness of the air around here reminds me that I love the ocean, even though I am fat and alone in my brownness and afraid of the drinking that comes with beach culture. No trains to Margaritaville this trip. All things being equal, if there were no Southerners in matching outfits, I would live here in a heartbeat. The relentless sun is something I love, the heat and humidity a part of some kind of genetic memory. The rhythm of beach life. Sometimes I feel Aztec in my power and anger and connection with the sun. I am equally comfortable in the cold as the heat, though and in the winter, I banshee scream through the snow. "This is my power weather," I shriek. I like all weather, even the relentless kind.
My nephew found a dead baby shark and held it for a while in the surf. I couldn't help but find it beautiful, both the gesture and the dead shark. There are nineteen of us in all our personalities and quirks. We had a family photograph taken yesterday. We were all asked to wear white and khakis like we were at band camp. It looked much nicer than I thought possible. We don't do that up north, do we? We don't match for our photographs. Or maybe it is just my people don't match. We are decidedly unmatchy. They will offer to sell us a picture of the four of us in white shirts and khaki shorts, and I will wonder if I should do it. I kept my hair down, and held the baby.We smiled.
I didn't pack her ashes, though I thought about it. I miss being around her essence. I used to feel so silly in my early months when someone would ask me if I felt Lucia all around me. I didn't feel her. I don't feel her. I don't know her. That is the problem, I would think. And I still don't feel her, but being away from our home, and our lives, I feel the absence of her. There is nothing here that is hers. This place does not have her at all. And I miss her. It isn't her ashes that contain her, or a place, but a feeling of comfort that is somehow lacking here, even though I am comfortable.
Pictures are so funny, because they only capture a fraction of a story. They capture only four-fifths of ours. Can a photograph capture the joy and sadness, the grief and pure happiness, of our family? We are sharing a condo with my brother-in-law, wife and nephew, and the absence of their son too. To talk of grief and babyloss in an organic way is so comforting, so natural. I am grateful to share our space with them.
I am sitting on the porch, overlooking a pier, which once hung over the ocean, but now, is over the sand. Katrina drastically changed the topography of this place. No island here, not sand dune there. I only know this island for what it is now, not what it used to be. I get this island because of that. Oil washed up on the beaches, covering the shore birds, sand where there is not to be sand, water where there once was no water. Industry dotting the beauty of the view. But still, it is pleasant, lovely. It is its own thing. I am the same. Tornadoes have torn through trailer parks of me. High waters. Storms, and calms, and people have littered their oil on my beaches, but something is still essentially me, even if I look the same. Name me the gulf or label me the sea. I am still here.