Out of Paragraphs, You Built Cathedrals 1/2

The following entry may contain triggering material.

My corporeal roommate Cecilia, and Cecilia’s family, have been so welcoming and this trip has been amazing so far! I’d been to the south before, to Siquijor (which I really should write about one day if only because, despite the island’s reputation, nothing mystically paranormal happened—because nothing sometimes happens, when you expect something to happen.) This time I’ve seen the city, with enough of the same land developers and brands as any other city in the nation, which was not what I expected. I’d expected something unexpected. This city was exactly as I should have expected, which I did not expect.

We drove by the volcano on the way to the beach. While my now-deceased corporeal mother would take her kids to snorkel over coral reefs as often as possible, and I have good memories of wandering the tidal pools in the afternoon, this was the first time I’d seen a living sand dollar.

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It’s a slightly more spiny sand dollar with something alive inside that moves the spines. Cecilia also mentioned that she always managed to step on sea urchins during trips like these, which I didn’t understand because the sea urchins I knew were fist-sized excluding the spines. Even under the water, the ones with the long black spines looked like a rift in the fabric of reality, and pretty much broadcast that nobody should put their foot in this dark spot. The sea urchins I found on this trip, though, were fingernail-sized. Fortunately, I found them in the same tidal pools as the above sand dollar, rather than finding them in the soles of my own feet. (Baaaby reality fabrifts! D’aww!) We also found baby sea ribbons, baby sea slugs, baby brittle starfish, baby starfish of species unfamiliar to me, baby lobsters, one baby coral polyp, baby octopi, adult fish that stuck with the shallows and changed color to match the sand depending on the time of the day, and (deeper in the water) tang fish, and a scattering of other fish that I couldn’t identify. We also found a reasonably-sized hermit crab with a sea anemone attached to the shell, and (onshore) a hermit crab without a shell that refused to move into any of the empty shells we’d found for em.

Oceans could be steely and forbidding. Then again, everything seemed steely and forbidding, in the undiagnosed depression of my pre-teens. I could behold the tropical ultramarine gradiating to aqua and pale peach sands, share the waters with a thousand electric-blue striped fish all moving as one, even with sea turtles…and it would all be through some gray ooze of blah. Eventually, though my mother worked hard to be able to take her kids on beach trips as often as possible, I would attend but not really participate. I remember one extended summer away from the bullying at school, like…eight months out, because my mother had plans that she didn’t tell me…took us on another beach trip, and I exclaimed at all the different kinds of crabs on the shore as we walked (because I hadn’t seen some of those kinds before.) “That’s the kid I remember!” My mother laughed.

I’d been dead inside for years, though, and she hadn’t missed me—not enough notice that I was always hurt, always scared, always sad, always tired, admit that something was wrong and get me out of there. It wasn’t only the bullies at school, though. I hadn’t known that with my mother so busy. When she wasn’t insisting that my problems were only my problems and not to bother her with it for more than a tolerated level of sulk, which was most of the time, she had what she called in therapy later—my therapy, she never went for herself, that would make it look like she was crazy—’impulsiveness’.

One of my lowest ribs is shorter than the other (broken or misaligned, I never had the opportunity to check, but I haven’t noticed any mysterious bone-shards wandering my abdomen) because of this impulsiveness. Every time I eat something, I keep almost tasting blood from where my teeth cut the inside of my mouth more than a decade ago: My mother had yanked my hair down and slammed my head against the table, because she had the impulse to. (My fault: I’d taken something from the center of the table, a cake or a cookie, I can’t remember anymore, and a crumb had fallen onto the tablecloth before the whole thing could reach my plate.)

After she’d died, my sister and I had scattered her ashes into the ocean she loved so much, and I scattered a few coins to Manannan. I’d grown to hate everything about my mother. The ocean was hers, she could have it. My work with those kinds of divinities was over.

“You’re too bloody cerebral!” Captain Hook shouted from the crow’s nest of the Jolly Roger, as the ship lurched from one shifting mountain of water to another.

…He doesn’t count as divinity. (Shh!)

In most dreams after my mother’s death, oceans radiated something like a glower: these enticing hues under the vivid sky and soothing shore-songs and cool buoyant levity were not for me. Pathworking with the tarot suit of chalices, of course, involved oceanic imagery, and I did that much later and didn’t come with as much bother. Quests with the pirates did, sometimes, partly because they get everywhere they can (especially on the edge of where they shouldn’t), and partly because “a spot of bother” is their raison d’être. Even after all that, this dream surprised me, because I’d expected oceans to usually glower or loom or lurk a little. My abuser could be somewhere in there. Me hearties entreated me not to worry, because we would usually have something evident to worry about rather than the possible. I just wished so many times that their aesthetic weren’t maritime.

The wood plank floor of the gazebo had a polygonal hole in the center. I stepped into it, into the clear and stagnant saltwater, the beige sand stirring where I stepped. Whether this was some doldrum shore or doldrum sand bank, I didn’t know; the day was overcast, the horizon filled with mist. I wondered: “Manannan?” And heard a ripple of laughter in the hushed, muted dreamscape. High, delicate, effervescent laughter. The sand and waters whorled, then stilled.

“Laethelia,” the voice said.

…I can’t swim well. I can go about two feet, and then my chest starts to burn with how hard I’m breathing, and it hurts my arms to move, and my legs start cramping.

It didn’t use to be like this. I could wish that I had known about this change before jumping into the ocean from a rock edge that I couldn’t climb, but I was already there, and the tip of the pier was thirty feet away, and the shore was further. I took a deep breath and held it, then turned up to face the sky and tried to relax everything else. Shut my eyes against the blazing sun. Feel the layers and currents rush over and under my legs. Hear the chuckle of waves lapping the rocks. When the water covers my ears, my own breathing sounds like the inside of a shell. My body sinks with each exhale, and buoys up again at the inhale, always on the edge between ocean and atmosphere. They make a rind that tickles. I remember to relax what feels like a stomach knot, let that area grow with the inhale—the inhales that come with raising the shoulders are generally more strenuous, for shallower and less effective breaths. I’d fallen back into that habit, of breathing from my shoulders. On the water, I still push the exhale (when I’ve been told I shouldn’t), because my face would go underwater if I exhaled meditatively, and then I’d choke and flail and cramp again. (Once, I opened my eyes and sighted down my chest because a fish had landed on my stomach and slipped back into the water. A few more fountained over me, probably from the same school. I hadn’t known they could go this shallow—not shallow to me, because I couldn’t stand on anything if I swam upright, but I thought these were open ocean fish rather than shore fish. I’d see one from the boat, later, really gliding in the air rather than hopping in an arch. These are flying fish.) When my arms and legs stopped cramping, I moved them slowly, and in ways like making a snow angel. This or the tide, or both, or maybe mostly the tide brings me to the shallows.

I want to keep that memory, for future meditations.

These waters were friendly, I’d felt. Pristine waters, Cecilia’s dad called it, because they were clear until they became deep enough to take an aqua hue. Cecilia was quick to point out that many of the corals had been bleached from whatever chemicals tourists like us bring. She’d gotten a reef-safe sunblock lotion from Human Nature. It had the texture of homestyle peanut butter, but damn I’ll suffer being smeared in peanut butter if the corals would be a little more okay.

My mother’s go-to beach resort when I was a child hadn’t bleached the corals, but some piece of jetsam or garbage would be floating in then still-clear waters. That’s when private owners started charging those who approached the house-sized rock islands and sand bank areas, around which would be the best reefs to snorkel over or dive into—or it used to be that way. We could only hope those funds went to cleaning up the waters, but my mother was less inclined to pay for the privilege of swimming with garbage. That was the last time visited.

This would have made me sad, but by that time I was always sad. Some saturation point had come and I couldn’t care anymore.

I thought I’d never care again.

We took a boat out to see the dolphins. Really, the dorsal fins of migrating cetaceans, which I couldn’t believe were dolphins, because even that bit we saw of them looked huge—it must be some local breed of orca. Cecilia swears that even dolphins could reach up to eight feet in body length, though. Cecilia’s dad said they were pilot whales. I took a video of the shadow of a fin, and then of several fins breaching the water surfaces, and I clapped, and exclaimed, honestly, “I’m happy!”

To be continued…

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