matt pond PA

July 30, 2016

Partying With Aegir.

Shuffling awkwardly across a hot, uneven seashore, I overhear three young women on an oversized Ariel towel. “You are both my maids of honor! There is no way I could’ve gotten through, like, life without, like, the both you!” There is squealing, there is hugging. The ever-present teenage version of myself might’ve once leaned on derision, conjuring images of party buses and black lights, sinking down into deep, dark thoughts. Yet these unpretentious noblewomen are happy. Their future is unfolding, holding tangible prospects, a lifetime of swelling, undulating, escalating possibilities.

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Suddenly, the ocean.

Pebbles and sand shift and slip upon approach. The legs become unsure. I severely disappoint my brains by mouthing the words, “Don’t be a beach.”

All around, up and down the shore is the white noise of water and people shrieking and laughing, as if none of them had ever attended the elite seminar on faking it: Livin’ And Lovin’ for Likes!™ The figures in the distance disappear in the golden sea mist. Brilliantly beautiful ghosts believing in the moment.

Water up the nose from a miniature rogue breaker, the hair becomes an impromptu pompadour. I’m in!

Submerge, cold, blind, dying, surface, sweet! Treading water. Crawling up waves. Diving into the crest. There is no thought except for exact instantaneousness. Then I ruin it by thinking about how I’m thinking about thinking about it. (I love small talk at parties, ostentatious bows on gifts and conversations with cats.)

Still, it’s radically thanatical. Treading water triumphs over all the overachieving, uninvited monsters that live in my milquetoast mind. It. Is. Perfect. Perfectly imperfect and mysterious. Gritty green water. Swooping seagulls. Unseen fins and fans swirl from below. The massive ocean, the limitlessness and limits of our human life. Clumsy mortals harmonize and shout with the relentless natural world, a summertime chorus of existential splendor. Laughter, legitimate laughter.

As I lean forward to reconnect with land and make my stand, the tide pulls back against shore. A rushing rock squarely strikes a slowly healing sprained toe. A shock of pain lights up my flashing, flickering eyelids. I feel the skin break. Terrestrial reality sets in.

Hands and knees, clawing against the surf, through once-magnificent fortresses and up and onto an ugly orange beach towel. Sprawling, strange, stone-wrecked. (I fall asleep imagining the four-wheeling lifeguard patrol might see fit to mercifully roll me back from whence I came, back to the abyss.)

And then there’s that unmistakable rubbery stop-start rhythm. Quickly shifting, a springing rap introduction rises out of the earth. From a temporary campsite a few dunes down, someone is playing Chaka Kahn’s cover of I Feel For You on a distorting jambox. The foot throbs in time to the synth bass, Stevie Wonder’s harmonica soars — a good groove is greater than any magic, farandaway superior to the coolest cure.

Sandy. Sundrenched. Hobbling. I go back out and in. After the music dies, there’s nothing on dry land that makes as much sense as the immediate, upright call of the loyal, roiling wild. A proud stumble into the churning foam. Treading water on the apex of every wave. After wave. After wave.

Dear Aegir.

I never meant to bring you down. I love you and your watery palace. Though I may not be the strongest swimmer, I always took a small medal home (whenever everyone was awarded a small medal).

I’m sorry about my flipper-less kind and the way they shake their heads to sullenly declare that they’re “treading water.”

It’s been negatively appropriated. It’s been scrambled and stolen to infer the abjection of going nowhere. When it plainly, unassumingly and awesomely means existing to exist.

We do exist to exist. We do party to party. We are going nowhere (until we get to Mars). And within that simplicity we’re supposed to amplify every damn heartening thought and deed as loud and far as our hopeful arms and ideas can flap and majestically flounder. Broken bones and all.

Next summer, I promise to make it right with my silent protest in the middle of the Pacific. You’ll see. Someday when I’m good and gone, my picture will stand high and proud in the sooty hall of fame of pointless splashing. You’ll see.