The sea has always had a powerful, resonating pull over me. I grew up on Scotland’s east coast. You could often hear the sea from my bedroom window, even though it was a mile or so away.
I may be remembering some of the following detail wrong. In fact, I have no doubt that I am. But here are some sea-story fragments that have been washing in and out in my mind today.
My upbringing was quiet, stable, yet emotionally complicated, tainted with unspoken sadnesses. I wanted for nothing, physically at least, but my emotional state was, to put it bluntly, fragile. From my pre-teens my main solace lay in watching the waves, feeling the waves both crash around and over me when I swam, and in absorbing the textures and taste and touch of the light, shadow, sand and salt water. I knew little of why my home felt sad, repressed, lost – a place of missed opportunity, even. Only that my mother was unwell, fighting an endless, hidden battle in her own mind.
Home was a strange place for me. It still is.
But the sea always helped. It absorbed fear, misunderstanding, guilt. No matter my mood, the sea seemed to reflect it – storm and white rollers and spray meant I could shout as loudly as I liked and no-one would hear (or care). Flat-calm metallic evening blues soothed teenage angst, allowed words to flow, helped me practise losing my faint stammer through reciting poetry or song words to the shimmering surface of the water.
As a teenager I remember endless nights out with friends on the three beaches that my town outlined. Each beach had its own atmosphere, its own depth, its own treasure. The East Sands for agate stones, each one a layered landscape held in the palm of your hand. The Castle Sands for bonfires and throwing your friends into the sea pool in the late summer twilight. The West Sands for long, stretched-out walks and the most beautiful conversations. I remember one night at dusk, paddling the shallows with a boy I liked, when an owl silently slipped past in the air above our heads, following the limits of the waves as they lapped the sand.
As the years passed I became slightly obsessed with the idea that certain parts of the beaches were ‘mine’. An early fascination with fossils led me to believe, for example, that if I always ran into the sea to swim in exactly the same place, my footprints might become preserved in the sand; compressed over millions of years to become future traces of myself – a fixed mark that I had been there and this place was mine. I wished that my sea swimming tracks could be preserved too, gilt-edged like the play of light on sand suspended underwater.
There could be, if you wanted there to be, multiple psychological reasons for my intense focus on the sea as a place to run to, a hopeful, longed-for place of endless change and liminality. For now, I’ll leave you with a seaweed-entangled poem, and an assurance that this story-thread may have only just begun.
By L. Reid, 2018
I had a favourite t-shirt
I saved for the sea;
For those days where the sun burst
And glittered the sand
While the waves rolled themselves out
And beckoned me in.
I would change and run
From silver dunes to blue water;
Relish the cold slap
Before diving into the breakers.
Out there; far out,
There was nothing but salt on your lips
The pull and suck of currents
At your ankles
And that sound
That aching yearning for more.
The salt would dry in maps
Across my arms
As a reminder of where I had been.