The Dangerous Ocean
By Stephanie Allen Crist
Somewhere in the dimensions unseen, I walk across the sands of time. The sun shines brightly, but the glare does not hurt my eyes and the sand is cool against my bare soles. Beside me walks a man whom I have known since before I was a child, and have come to know again as the days of my life are projected across the blue sky. In the brightest day, which has no end, I walk afraid. We are not alone.
Have you ever had a companion you couldn’t escape? A little sister or brother, perhaps, who always pestered you to play? A former lover who wouldn’t admit it was over? Or maybe the bullies at your schools waited and watched for you, awaiting an opportunity to lash out with their cruel words or painful touches?
The man is a companion I would choose for any journey, especially one as wrought with conflict as the journey of life. Yet I have another companion as well. One I would not choose. In the mortal realm this companion has a name, but no physical presence. Here, though, it has no name, but a body as unreal as my own. It sleeps in the deep. It waits in the shallows. It follows me all the days of my life, spitting darkness at me with each step I take. The darkness collects like a cloying mist. Until, finally, I cannot see my way ahead.
“Take my hand,” the man says.
I grasp wildly, feeling a hand perfected by the wound that never heals. But my hand is sweaty and slippery and I cannot grip him properly. A tentacle wraps around my ankle, tugging me toward the surf, toward the abyss.
“It’s got me! I’m going under!” I scream.
“Hold onto me,” the man says calmly yet urgently. “You are mine. I will not let go.”
He does not let go. But the tentacle is slimy and I feel darkness seeping into my pores. My breath comes in short, desperate gasps. I have to get it off me! With one hand I push at the darkness, but its grip tightens and it tugs me closer to the ocean.
“Walk to me,” he says, still holding my hand. “I am your rock. I am all the security you need.”
But no, I don’t believe him. It’s pulling me to the water, to the abyss. I need to get it off me!
I let go.
I try to use both hands to free myself, but, in a moment of pure terror, it pulls me under. He can do nothing, for I let go. Forever the fool, I choose once again to let go.
It pulls me through the surf and I sputter, gasping for air. I think I’m getting loose. I think I’ll beat it this time. I fight wildly for purchase in the soft, wet sand. But there’s nothing to hold onto. I let go of the only purchase there is in this realm.
I go under. I go deep.
My lungs scream for air. I scream for terror. Oily water fills my lungs. I struggle, for naught. It holds me fast. Then, my lungs seize and I have no will for struggling. I drown in despair.
I go deeper.
In the dark depths of the ocean, there is an abyss that swallows me whole. This is its home. This is where it lives. But I cannot live here. I will not live here.
In the abyss there is only darkness and fear. Yet, I sense there are others there. These are shadowy figures, unreal in this realm. Some struggle fitfully. Some rest in despair’s chilling embrace. They live here now. Some quiet and subdued, others fighting and in pain, each living in the abominable abyss.
And I see some others, swimming for the shore. They do not live here. I cannot live here. But how can I swim without hope to breathe? I fight and I struggle. The pain makes me howl, but there is no sound in the depths of the ocean, just death and despair and darkness. Then, a light breaks through the darkness. He sends his light and I see.
The many-tentacled thing draws back from me. “You are mine,” he says. Though there is no sound in the depths, I hear him and I feel his voice vibrate through my body.
It lets go of me.
I swim and swim for all my life and all my loves. I swim for my children. I swim for those who live forever on the shore. I swim for my fellow swimmers. And I swim for those I must leave behind in the depths of despair. I swim for my words and my stories. I swim for the places that I love and the work I must do. And I swim for him, the bright light that shines the love of He who made all things.
I reach the surface and gasp for air, gulping the hope and the light of it hungrily into my lungs. But still, I am far from the shore, so far. I almost give up. Instead, I swim. I see others, and some I pass by. Like those in the depths, I cannot touch those who swim, but I see them. Some flounder and go under, back to the depths to try again or to live in despair. Others are far ahead of me, swimming through waves, wading through the surf, climbing onto the shore. He awaits each and every one.
I swim. My arms ache and my lungs burn. The pain lures me to the depths. But I swim. The waves crash at me, threatening to break me. Still, I swim. Then, close to the shore and the promise of rest, the undertow pulls me down and out, back towards the darkness, back towards the despair, back towards where I cannot live. I swim and thrash and fight, desperate for life and light and air and peace. Then, in a miraculous moment, I break free. I’m in the surf. I stand. I trudge through the water with the waves still pulling at me. But I make it to the beach and collapse on the sand with my face to the warmth of the sun.
He brushes the wet tendrils of hair from my eyes. “You let go,” he says gently, the admonishment full of peace and love.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper, still out of breath.
He smiles and leans in close. He kisses my brow. Then, with arms far stronger than any mortal could boast, he picks me up and holds me close. The next step in my life is his to make and he takes it, carrying me until I can stand on my own once again.
So, for now it sleeps. But it will awaken. It will wait in the surf once more. Once more it will spit darkness at me, a cloying mist. Once more I will take his hand. Once more I will let go. I will drown again.
For depression is the companion I cannot escape. It stalks me still.