As many of you know, Jake and I moved to Phoenix from Charleston, SC. Charleston is a peninsula on the east coast. Therefore, it is surrounded by water. Sometimes, when I’m driving in downtown PHX, memories of the Charleston geography still haunt me, as in “Be careful. If you turn down the wrong street, you’ll go right into the ocean.” I won’t, of course; we’re in the middle of a desert. Still, after living in Charleston for two years, I grew accustomed to having water around.
Since moving to the Valley of the Sun, my eyes have become thirsty for water. When I drive over aqueducts, I like looking down and pretending they’re raging rivers. When I’m near a swimming pool, I cross my eyes and pretend the water lapping against the ladder is seawater—ocean waves and undertow, threatening to pull me out to sea. Pathetic, I know, but after living five minutes from the ocean for two years, this whole desert thing is taking some getting used to.
Last weekend, Jake took me to San Diego. I’d never been to California, and I’d never seen the Pacific Ocean. On the drive west, I was insane. I oo-ed and aww-ed at the crisp, yellow sand dunes. I took pictures of the giant California wind farms. And the closer we got to the coast, the more I swore I could smell the salt water—because that was how it was in South Carolina. You could smell the ocean before you saw it.
We dropped our stuff off at Jake’s friend’s house in the San Diego hills and changed into our bathing suits. We drove through downtown San Diego and headed straight for La Jolla Beach. We parked in a garage, and when we finally stepped out into the fresh air, I was dismayed to find that:
1) It was freezing outside.
2) It was foggy.
3) It smelled like rotting bird poop.
In regards to each item: yes, it really was freezing. I mean, it was probably sixty degrees. Growing up in Ohio, sixty degrees was hot. Moving to Charleston, sixty degrees meant winter. Now living in Phoenix, the weatherman has never seen the numbers six and zero anywhere near each other. It was also foggy, but only over the ocean. Inland, the sun was shining; along the coast, an apocalyptic wall of gray held us captive. And finally, the bird poop: La Jolla Beach is a bird hangout. They sit there, squawk, and make waste, which eventually leads to rotten waste, which led to the appalling odor.
Despite all this, I was not deterred. I had come to swim in the ocean I so adored and so missed; I would swim in the ocean.
After climbing down a couple cliff edges, Jake and I finally found a sandy beach. The water, even beneath the fog, was glorious—clear and deep blue. Far away from the bird poop, I could finally smell blessed salt water. There were a couple people on the beach, standing around and looking out at the water. There were a couple kids actually swimming, because we all know we’re more resilient when we’re young. I mean, shoot, when I was a kid, you could have told me the freezing cold Ohio pool water was poisonous, and I still would have jumped in. Evidently, nothing has changed, because I stripped down to my suit and ran into the Pacific Ocean.
Okay, well, I dipped my toes in. I screamed. Then, I went in up to my knees. Screamed some more. Jake took some pictures of me screaming. But finally, we did it. Jake and I jumped in, and after going completely numb, the water wasn’t so bad.
Living in Phoenix, I miss the ocean. Sometimes, the ache is almost painful, as if I’m mourning something lost and gone forever. I prefer the east coast ocean, but I love the west coast ocean, too. I love any ocean, I think.
It’s important for me to remember that even in the desert, there is water a couple hours away. So whenever I get forlorn in this land of dryness, I’m gonna put on my bathing suit, pour a tub of ice cubes into our lukewarm swimming pool, and jump in with my eyes shut. I’ll search for a tiny breeze, blowing in from the west … smelling like salt water.