I live in the Midwest. My neighborhood was literally a cornfield not so many years ago. I'm supposed to be excited because there is a pond (man-made retention pond, that is) in my neighborhood. I grew up just a few miles from where I live now, in another community rising out of the corn. I am a child of the sea who, by accident, was raised as a child of the corn. I sometimes hear the name "Malachi" whispered in the wind.
For more than a decade of my life, though, I lived in a bucolic New England hamlet just minutes from the beach. The real beach. The ocean beach. I loved going there and enjoying the restorative healing and calm that can only come from hearing power pound on the sand and smelling salt in the air. I spent many an hour pondering life as sand squished through my toes and drew comfort from the proximity of it. I swore I'd never leave.
Life, though, is unpredictable, so I now find myself again landlocked in a foreign place. I feel this most acutely in the summer, when my pores are parched and long for some salt water and expanse of beauty. It's where I live, but it doesn't feel like my home. People who live by the sea are my tribe. There is something about them I can't put into words. They are often salty (pun intended) and brutally honest and fierce in their loyalty and seem almost to be living incarnations of the ocean. Though I grew up here in this dry and landlocked place, I was born by the sea (Newport, RI) and it's in my blood.
This is not to say that the Midwest is a terrible place (people here are very sensitive to the stereotypes of living in a "flyover state", which often aren't true at all, and loyal in their own way to the Hoosier state) or that the people here are not worthy. I love many people of the corn, but I feel kismet with the people of the sea.
There is a heaviness in my heart as I slather sunscreen on to go lie by a pool which tries so hard to be a beach, with fake palm tress and "wave runner" machines. "We have lakes and reservoirs!" my friends exclaim. Yes, I think, but it's not the same. There isn't wild, reckless beauty at a lake or a reservoir. "You're a snob," they sometimes say. Perhaps I am, just a little bit. I'm trying to fit in here, but my toes and hands and face ache to submerge in the frigid water of the northeast, or in the warm and less intense waters of southern California. I want to strap on some SCUBA gear again and enjoy the peace of the depths where the only noise is the bubbles of my own breath rising and escaping into the air. I long to be around other ocean people who understand me and who hold the water dear.
I've gone back to visit a handful of times, and my lungs expand more the closer I get to "home." My stress leaves, and my body rejoices. When I leave, my tears are the closest I know I'll be to salt water for some time. I was married for the second time on a beach, surrounded by my sea-friends, and it was a truly magical day. I tell myself it's where I will live again before I die. I have to believe it.
In the meantime, I'll scroll through the scores of pictures I have of those years, close my eyes, and remember. And I'll make the best of my time here, landlocked though it may be. And maybe I'll learn to love a lake as much.
Courtney is a most fabulous writer and teacher of gifted middle school students. She is the author of two novels - see the "Cate Books" page of this site for information! Watch for updates about future books that need to be part of your personal library. In the meanwhile, enjoy her pithy life observations.