In the dream, I leave Bug in the hands of a busy child care center in the city and head out for an afternoon walk. The water is close. Just a few bold steps off the unmarked edge of a road carry me down to a quiet beginning.
A river snakes along sand and volcanic stone. As I stroll along it, the buildings disappear behind me. Soon, the path opens out onto breeze-rippled silence. The sun is bright enough to blind me and I have to pull my narrow-brimmed hat low over my eyes. I pause and take in the impossible pitch of the rimed stone jutting up from the surface of the confluence. Is it ocean or river, this aquatic jewelbox? Sapphire and emerald stand shoulder-to shoulder with opal, all of it turning in luxurious circles under the glittering sun.
The riverbank calls me closer. I shed my shoes. The water is clear enough that I can peer down into the caverns below the rough stone. White sand is a warm powder massaging my soles. No one is anywhere. I want so badly to slide into the aquamarine shallows but I am alone and it could be dangerous. I do not recall where I am. Is this country home to alligators? Piranhas? No one would hear me call if a hidden barnacle sliced my skin.
Just on the other side of the large stone, a pool spills into the cool silver below. The bottom disappears into deepening dark. It could fall all the way to the center of the earth. It is not a swimming hole per se, yet it is wide enough for my body even with my arms outstretched. The hunger to immerse is powerful enough to make me quiver but caution stills my descent. It is better to be safe, yes? I only have a few hours before I must return for my son. I settle for submerging my feet up to my ankles. The cool brine makes me shiver. I bend and splash it over my calves and shoulders. The sun is so very warm.
Footfalls behind me rend the silence. It is Tee. He is jogging, waving hello. His pink skin is flushed and he has that goofy grin on his face he so often wears. Hello! Hello!
I ask him why he is not with Bug. He tells me he stopped into the child care center for a visit but he decided to go for a run. It is my night with our son anyway. He has all the time in the world. Nearby, up a low slope of grass, the balconies of apartments overlook this riverside trail. Tee strips down naked and I remind him that people live close here. He seems surprised to find he might be exposed. He dons the shorts again but ties his shirt around his waist and makes as if to join me on my stroll.
I’d really rather walk alone.
He shrugs as I go ahead. Instead of turning back, though, he picks up the jog again and passes me. He plods on just in my line of sight along the soft and sandy path. My path. The waving reeds and sea-grass are obscured by his sunburned back. He is going in the direction of what I had thought to be my solitary exploration. Now I know I must really remember Bug because Tee will be too far ahead and cannot be relied upon to take him home if I lose my sense of direction.
The wild path is no longer wild, not with my ex pounding along it before me. I don’t want to share this with his noisy presence. I turn off and wind through the neighborhood there. It is a place with rental apartments, playgrounds, a crumbling community pool. The swimming families squeal and chatter. Women with thick thighs and thinning swimsuits snap at their children. There are so many girls. They tease in a screeching playfulness that shimmers with latent violence. The yellowish-blue does not look inviting at all. I walk on past feeling crowded, heavy, a little desperate.
When I find my way back to the water, the river has grown to a surging froth. It runs below a road bridge built high on concrete girders. A footpath descends a sharp cut of rickety stairs down to the place where a culvert spills foaming debris out into the current. There is no place to cross. I cannot make my way on foot up to the pounding, traffic-dense bridge, and anyway, it seems to go the wrong way. I have somehow come out on the side opposite where I need to be.
I am so confused. My wild place, that aquamarine pool and the waving sedge, has all given way to boat launches and drawbridges. Roaring vehicles tow rivercraft. There is nowhere to walk. I carry a small inflatable raft. It is red. It is tucked under my arm. It is too big to carry but too flimsy to use for crossing. I stand near the edge of the road where it falls into this sea. I look across the choppy black. It is far too wide for me.
Somewhere over there is the city I just left, my son, and the home I don’t yet know is my own. The place I need to be is there. This awareness is a knife in the gut. I feel miserably unsatisfied. For as long as I’ve been gone, I never took that quiet stroll on which I set out. I never did find out what grew along the edge of the wet lip of the bay. I wish now I had simply let myself in to that dangerous, lonely deep.
Had I called upon the years of swimming in mountain lakes and relied on my own strong arms to keep my head above water, I could have immersed the whole sheath of my being in that jeweled and quiet embrace. If only I had trusted the body of this wet earth and this mighty self to hold me, I could have whetted my appetite for solitude.
Now, I have to ask for help.
A man hauling cables barks commands at drivers. I am quivering, on the verge of tears, but I do my best simply to state my need.
Can you help me get across? How does this all work?
He is brusque. All business. He points me to a dinghy. Another man clips my raft onto the bigger vessel. I pay six dollars and board. He whirs the motor and speeds across the water. None splashes on me now. It is an opaque and impossible substance. I do not look down. My eyes trace the smooth line out to the west or east, if only I knew. The open horizon has room enough but no map. I have no compass to carry me to it.
The emptiness recedes. It is so very far never to go.
The captain, if he can be called this, deposits me on the asphalt launch opposite along with the other passengers. I scrounge my raft from among the anonymous craft and make back towards the road. The city thrums in the distance. I am late. I have miles to retrace. My son is waiting.