I've made my health a bit of a project for the last 10 months. As I round the corner towards the one year mark of some serious physical failure/total falling apart, I can look back and reflect on all the different milestones, cities, and specialists that I have come across during this journey. It has been one of the best years of my life, and it had also been the most physically difficult year of my life. I don't think change is easy for anyone. Some of us are just a little better at riding the waves as they come to shore. Life was incredibly hard for the last five years. I was ready for 2016 to come in and usher in a lot of change, all of it positive. I was in the most stable, sane, and emotionally rewarding relationship of my life. I had just landed an incredible job at an exciting foreign start up. I had a better home and friends than ever before in my adult life. I was ready to not look back.
One time when I was about six, we took a family trip to the ocean on the coast of Washington. We went with a family whose two kids grew up with me and my brother, our stair stepping ages making for the perfect blend of fun, fear, and familiarity that lifelong childhood bonds are steeped in. Those two were like our other siblings. On the last day of this post Christmas trip, we were on the beach climbing and building a sea fort on one of the massive driftwood trees that can only be believed if seen in real life.
The entire trip, my dad had repeated the same mantra over and over and over again:
"Don't turn your back on the ocean."
He warned us of riptide, pointed to the red and white signs along the shore of a swimming stick man, and told us horror stories of children getting lost at sea. It took a few days, but his unwavering conviction made the message stick. The ocean could be dangerous.
That last foggy morning we were gathering sticks and kelp bulbs, shells and other less natural debris to decorate our found fort. We were enthralled in our made up game, lost in play in that mesmerizing way only kids seem to be capable of. We were safe on the shore of our seaside world.
Out of nowhere, a wave of water flooded around the tree. I had been on the sand, and somehow managed to see it coming. I ran and scrambled up to the tree, the heightest branches of which our two friends had already scrambled up to. Our parents were up there as well, and for a split second I was almost certain we all were. Until I looked down and realized my brother was still on the sand, arms outstretched as water began to swirl around his waist.
I reached my hand towards him, as did others. Even now, the memory is a blur, and I'm not sure if it was my Dad or another parent who grabbed his hands and held tight. I know for certain it wasn't my Mom, because she snapped a photo of that very moment. Corbin's face twisted in absolute terror, arms reaching towards an adult. It's a snapshot we still have, and the memory is both the center piece and punch line to a family story we've told for years since.
I do distinctly remember the moment my brain switched from panic to relief. I don't know if it was something in my Dad's voice or watching the water recede. I just know that at some point I realized that my brother wasn't going to be swept off.
But that was all it took. My Dad's words stuck, and every year after that I would repeat the mantra to myself when we returned to the coast. I even was able to teach them to my own son in December of 2014, when I brought him to the coast for the first time as a single mother. My whole family was around me to echo the words for him.
"Don't turn your back on the ocean."
I've periodically forgotten those words throughout my life, and each time I've paid dearly. Each time I've managed to make it out of the water, although sometimes just barely. Each time I've walked away with a new scar or story that has fundamentally shifted and shaped who I am.
The first lesson managed to last just a bit longer than a decade, all until the day I showed up knocking on the door of adulthood. I was 17 and diving face first into my first year of college. I already had an over 21 boyfriend and had just managed to secure my very own studio apartment that I was going to share with another student for a whopping $425 each a month. This was due to a university wide housing shortage and suddenly made me popular in a brand new group of friends. Needless to say, I felt very grown up. Seeing as how I lived a life with no grown ups around, my place quickly became the #1 location to smoke and drink whatever you wanted until all hours of the night because no one could get us in trouble (sorry, Mom).