The Ocean

by Ted Box

I’ve practiced holding my breath to plumb your depth, and spent a great deal of time looking at you, but looking within has always held fascination. And glimpses of my own allow me to feel bound to you not out of hubris, but of kin. Either the ocean is innocent or it’s evil. But isn’t that the same tag we can place on God? Oh, you have broken promises or is it that I lack innocence?

I am therefore, I love, but loving you has been difficult. You seduced me in the summer of my life sharing yourself, and never asking anything in return
I played in your shallows. Never considering the locker of blue-lipped drowned lovers long forgotten but still mourned in memory leaked from passions past. As I grew bolder, you coaxed me into deeper water. But I kept an eye on you.

I remember that little Judy Porter taught me what a grappling hook was, and that was the last thing she taught anyone, as they pulled her droopy from the canal, and the boy whose name I never learned, whose parents moved to the harbor to give him a better life, who fell in the canal behind a beer joint named the Ocean Inn, whose trousers got caught on a bolt, and I always wondered why he didn’t take them off? And all of that happened before I started school. We’re in a relationship, but I wouldn’t call it love. More like a wounded shark driven mad by its own blood. Or a woman in an abusive relationship, clinging to good days, powerless when the tide changes. You’ve caused me to measure myself.

In the beginning, I didn’t notice. “Swim across the canal and back and we’ll get you your own boat.”

I understood the bargain my parents made with you. They didn’t want me pulled out of the canal with a grappling hook or staring up at the surface as my breath failed and my lungs filled with you. But I didn’t think much about that. I could climb out of my crib and playpen before I could walk. I wasn’t going to drown. You weren’t going to drown me. But you drowned better men than me – Chris, Dicky, Mott, Bobby, Alton, Billie, Charlie, Sully, Anthony, and many more.

Fisherman friends who went out and never came back or came back in a form rendered of little use to anyone other than the corpse worm. Only Dicky, they say was never found, but he was found, a thousand mouths brought him home. Maybe you’re keeping score. The widows never mourned the tons of trash fish pitch-forked over the side because it’s easier than bending over. How many fish equal a man? A million?

I measured myself the day I set out in the twenty-two-foot Block Island boat for a three-thousand-mile sail, every difficulty faced without the aid of engines.
Blue water, flying fish and tan girls, naked because we were young. I measure myself every time I go to sea, and I’m measuring myself now. I’ve built a tall ship. You can’t do it, unless you’re as big as the task. I’m not, but I trick myself into thinking I am, and that’s always worked for me.

The next thing, the next pass of the cape, is happening in less than two weeks:
Launching. It’s not about the boat. It’s about me. It’s always about me. Another measuring. Another stretch.

At moonlit nights at anchor it’s hard not to call it love, but there are other nights, nights that I barely remained aloof from a gravestone marking an empty grave. No. I wouldn’t call it love. Someday I’m going to leave you.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

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