E returns to the Letters to June series, musing on the power of sea and self. Photograph by Jordan McQueen.
Let me tell you what it’s like to come to the sea after too long:
Long strides along the Rehoboth Avenue in the early light. Walking more quickly along the street as the glimmer of the shore overtakes the horizon. A quickening of the pulse. A quiet gasp. The final break where street meets boardwalk and boardwalk leads to sand and sand leads to sea. The rush with outstretched arms, like reaching toward a loved one waiting in the terminal at the airport: thank you for meeting me here. Sandals cast off behind, the first steps are splashes in the foamy tides. The sting of salt and cold water around your legs: an embrace. The slate grey sea has waited for you, indifferently, but has waited all the same. You are here.
Standing knee-deep in the cold Atlantic, watching the crests of waves glow with the first morning light, I am a pillar. I am weathered by the cold rains and winds of this monsoon spring but I am still a pillar, quietly, steadily becoming aware of my own power.
I come here every year to walk with me. I traipse along the dunes, bathed in mist, searching along the lights of the boardwalk that are almost imperceptible in the fog. This time of year, the avenue looks like a settlement lost to ghosts, reigned by memory and drenched in nostalgia. A faded orange Dolly’s salt water taffy sign looms high above the sands like the eyes of Dr T. J. Eckelberg over the valley of ashes: a reminder of the unchangedness of this place over time. The teal and white striping of Archie’s Lemonade, and their luxuriant pile of lemons resting artfully on a cart: a still-life ode to summer. Around the corner, a hidden alleyway illuminated by string lights and brightly colored lanterns draws me out from myself. In this liminal space between New England and the American South, between land and tide, I am only passing through this moment.
This winter just gone by was the longest of my memory. My bones still ache with the dullness of it. It felt as though the Earth itself in my corner of the universe had forgotten to turn towards the sun. I had forgotten myself, too. But the sea has a way of reminding us who we are, or maybe just who we would like to be. Glowing like the crests of waves, the taste of salt on my lips, I stood alone in the sea this morning knowing I could be anything.
June: let my eyes stray from the screen to the horizon and cast my heart again into the waves. Thaw my bones. Let your warmth wash over me.