I am walking across the beach at low tide thinking about bullwhip kelp [Nereocystis luetkeana] because all around me the stipes that washed up in March and April have dried into strands a fraction the size of the originals. What were turgid, heavy tubes ten, twelve, fourteen feet long — they are reputed to grow as long as 120 feet — are now brittle curls the size of dried willow branches. The bulbs that poke out of the sand look like desiccated heads of garlic.
What’s puzzling me is how my friend manages to get beautifully preserved, sun-bleached specimens that retain their original size and shape. She has several dozen stacked on a large table in her studio overlooking the ocean. They are the color of bone, and from a distance seem to be made of bakelite. You pick one up, and it’s light and not at all fragile, without the smell of ocean you would expect from something that trapped light in sea water.
She showed me how, by puckering the lips and blowing on one end, you make a haunting, hollow trumpeting sound like the call of whales signaling in the vast deep . Each one sounds a little different, some rougher, some smoother, some with a little more “toot” and some with a little more “tweet”, depending on their length and shape, and the degree of twist and torque in the stipe.
Each Fourth of July, this woman organizes her friends into a bullwhip kelp band and sends them off to march in the town parade, shaking the rattle bulbs filled with rice or beans and blowing the horns, producing the sounds made by native Americans living in these coastal inlets before, before the big demographic change — the expropriation by settlers from the east and south and north who had no eye or ear for local ways, but only rushed to replicate, in a new land, the lives they’d left behind.
So walking on the beach I’m wondering how my friend manages to find these beautiful, intact specimens of bullwhip kelp and I realize that I need only consider how she makes her way to the beach, and I’ll have my answer. She lives high above the tumble of rocks and boulders at the base of the mountain that runs into the ocean. There the winter storms pile up logs, stumps, fishing nets, saw horses, buoys, an occasional glass float and giant ribbons of kelp. As I’m thinking all this, I find a perfect long stipe on the boulders, and then look up, and see my friend and her man lying on the beach, blowing into the kelp horns.
We stop to talk. I tell her about my aching bones, my aching gut, my aching heart – the sequelae of my decision to back away from “the relationship.” No stranger to heartbreak, she listens intently and then rummages around in her scientist head to tell me that when we fall in love our brains kick into the same modality of chemical changes that morphine — or other addictive drugs — induce, and that when we back off from the “love fix,” our bodies go into the same symptoms of withdrawal. I’m not surprised. The Imago therapists with whom my man and I shared every step of our relationship kept talking about the endorphin highs produced during the infatuation phase of courtship and maintained by physical contact (holding hands, embracing, kissing, intercourse). They never talked about the withdrawal effect, though.
The last time I went through this withdrawal I had too many responsibilities to juggle to afford the luxury of attending to its complex manifestations. I remember profound humiliation, betrayal, fear, anger, spikes of hostility, shame, regret all churning in a maelstrom of grief. In this roiling current of complex emotions, memories, glimpses of what was being lost, there was also: my father’s final illness and death… my daughter’s move to college. My uterus went into high gear, breeding fibroids, bleeding, weeping blood every ten days for a week or a fortnight at a stretch, the wrenching cramping below an echo to the heavy dullness in my head. A Gesamtkunstwerk of pain: heart pain, soul pain, body pain. I doubled up on antidepressants and let the grieving take its subterranean course.
This time it’s different. I have only myself, the dog, and the ocean. And so I can inspect the workings of grief on a cellular level.
The beach, for me, is the proper setting for mourning the death of a future that was projected in the daze of love.
The foreshore teems with the dead: birds, crabs, kelp, seals, sand dollars, trees, fish. And the foreshore teems with the living.I am consoled as long as the waves keep sounding, as the clouds overhead mass and disperse. The sand fleas hop at low tide. The gulls point into the wind.
I will not override the uncertainty. Or sweep my gut instinct under the rug. Or take a leap into an unknown that is even more unknown than the one I inhabit now.
I like that you, sir, pine not for me.
I like that I pine not for you.
That the earth’s great globe will never
Glide beneath our feet.
I like that I can tease —
At ease— not mincing words,
Not blushing when sleeves lightly brushing
Send rushing a suffocating wave.
I also like also that to my face
You, sir, casually kiss another,
That you don’t sentence me to hellfire
For kissing, sir, not you.
That you, my sweet, by day, by night, don’t take
My own sweet name in vain —
That never will the strains of “Hallelujah”
Fade into the tabernacle hush around us.
I thank you, sir, with my hand and heart
For this: that you, sir – to yourself unknown—
Do love me: for the stillness of my night,
For the rare encounters at sunset hours,
For our non-dalliances by moonlight.
For the sun shining not on our heads, –
For your pining – alas – not for me,
For my pining – alas – not for you.