When I was a child I always saw myself as a mermaid. I believed God had made me wrong, given me two legs instead of a tail. I pictured myself out by the shore, sipping champagne from a seashell.
As I grew I realised that I wasn’t a mermaid, of course, and since I couldn’t swim I ran instead.
Every morning I rose early, often before sunrise. I would eat my oatmeal and then suit up in exercise clothes. Though I would never be a mermaid, I still ran by the ocean.
The salty breeze would pump in and out of my lungs as I pounded my way down the boardwalk.
There was nothing exactly like the feeling of the ocean’s wind on my face and the sound of seagulls above the beach.
While I could always experience some part of the ocean throughout the town, nothing beat being by it, surrounded by it, engulfed in its essence.
I especially loved when it was winter, especially when it was raining.
The day I turned twenty five, my older sister had her first baby. I missed my morning run to be at the hospital with her.
My niece was born when I would have been rounding the bend in the final leg of my route.
For the next few days, I missed my runs. There were complications in the birth so I was there to step up as an advocate. I became the perfect aunt and sister.
The girl was born without a father and I had never had a boyfriend. My relationship was with the world around me. The world was a partner that so many people shared and so many people abused.
When my niece was finally brought home, I resumed my runs.
I would run for an hour each morning, go home and shower and then show up for work at a call centre in one of the downtown office buildings. On Thursdays my father would take me out for lunch.
It was a special thing we shared. I was close to my father, which made the following week’s event that much more devastating.
On Thursday morning, while I was on my run, I got a call from my sister.
I never listened to music when I ran and instead enjoyed the sounds of the city and ocean, but that day I had mixed things up with some acoustic guitar so I had my phone with me.
I stopped on the boardwalk to take the call with the sound of waves crashing against the shore in the background.
When the conversation was finished, I turned around and stared out across the water.
I knew I was just another insignificant piece of cosmic dust, yet the news that my father had died felt cataclysmic. The waves continued to crash along the beach. The waves were unrelenting.
I turned away and walked home.
The funeral was on the weekend.
My father, the most prepared man on the planet, had planned most of what had to be done in the event of his death but it was still a bit of work to contact the guests and family members.
At that point in time only two things had prevented me from running every morning: The birth of my niece, and the death of my father.
I had not run in the past three days in a row and had begun to miss it. In a sickening way I missed it more than I missed my own father.
I was lucky, I guess. I only owned black clothing as I couldn’t afford a colourful and cohesive wardrobe. The service was long but thankfully I had not been asked to speak.
My sister wove beautiful memory-filled stories about our summer camping trips and similar emotional things. All I felt was a cold numbness.
The service ended and we all transferred to our cars to head to the cemetery.
Upon my arrival at the cemetery, I froze up.
I had hitched a ride with my sister and I was wedged in the back seat between my niece’s car seat and a distant cousin but I couldn’t bring myself to exit the car for a good solid two minutes.
Everyone else just looked at me sadly. I finally left the car and just as I did it began to rain. I took three steps towards where my family was gathered and then stopped.
Ahead of me was my everything. My very own niece had been born only a short time ago and my sister needed me but all I could hear were the sounds of the ocean.
I felt the pull of the tides as strong as what kept me with my family. I ran. I ran past graves and out of the cemetery gates. I ran down the sidewalk and hit the boardwalk within minutes.
I struggled my way through the damp sand and into the crashing water.
The skin around my ankles instantly chilled. I was soon up to my shins, knees, waist. I was enrobed in the ocean’s cold water.
When I was a child I always saw myself as a mermaid: spit from the ocean as a baby. Now I knew that I had seen this: the cold of the ocean accepting me into it. The sea I return to.