The day after the hurricane passes, we head to the beach.
The storm clouds from the day before still hang low in the sky, shading it more gray than blue. The adults stay on the sand, warning us not to head too far out- there’s a riptide today. When we run in the white-tipped waves press against us, their strength almost belied by their size. Water always carries more weight than one would expect. Every inch gained against them is a mile lost, and we begin to drift down the beach.
One disparages the warnings. As we walk on the sand, he tells me with all the misplaced confidence granted at thirteen years of age, that “Riptides only pull you out when you’re still- they can’t grab you if you’re moving.” I laugh, watching the beige fade to blue over my toes as we turn back into the water. “What are you going to do, fight the ocean? It’s stronger than you.”
We play a survivor’s game chest-deep in the waves, jumping over what we can and trying to ride out what we can’t. Later that day I will be slammed three times in quick succession, scraping my knees on shell shrapnel and inhaling half a pint of saltwater with a badly timed breath. It’s a not-so-gentle warning, and a friendly reminder to take my own advice.
I will resurface coughing and lay flat on the sand for several minutes, recovering as I am teased. The other girl tells me to breathe as I continue to hack up salt. Her foot was bleeding half an hour ago, and I call her a hypocrite.
I will remember, next time, to hold my breath until my eyes are clear of water.
The ocean will once more try to impart its age-old wisdom. I will continue to jump in the waves as if to shed my skin for scales, and once more learn all the wrong lessons.
I will be back in the same ocean the next day, having learned everything and nothing at all.