when at sea.

Which is why I feel I could never get on a cruise ship or any other large vessel; I am convinced it is ancestral trauma. The idea that the sea - Yemaya, Aggayu… and the blessed Olokun, with a benevolence that is only known to come from the divine, would, much like the biblical Jesus, would martyr some human life; accepting the souls of those who refused to live in bondage and in sacrifice would join the gods to feast on ambrosia and dance through elysian field, that is, after literally jumping from the deck of the ships that snatched them from their homelands, into the blue below - would be the place that garnishes the most fear, respect, confusion, and awe from my painstakingly manicured, poor, ignorant, soul and mind. The spirits that guided us - our ancestors - across the Atlantic. 


I drowned once. Before the very eyes of my biological mother, and I emphasize biological mother because we have a set of spiritual parents, whose identities to me at this time are unknown, but, I respect the spirit because, like Oedipus, you do not know where your kinship ends and begins if you have never known the truth/god. We’ve always been children of the ocean, water lover - i remember how the oceans i’d create in my bathtub as a child would be shattered by the thunder of Sandra’s surprised when she sees the bathroom floor, walls, and sink are soaking wet from the condensation and splashing of the waves… We dream to die and then become water, if not spend a great deal abound in the physical realm… we, i, she, are water. People will argue that “well, if you drowned, how are you still alive to tell the story?”

The act of something does not always quantify the usual result; you can swallow water and struggle to swim (the act of “drowning) without having to die (drown).

A sandbar off the coast of the Rockaway peninsula called our attention a bright august day; what was a good 100 or more feet from the dry sand, where my brother sat patiently for us to return. To be at, within, and surrounded by the glory (and unique supervision) of Yemaya is a thrill ride that teeters on sheer joy, freedom, satisfaction, and a vicarious dance with death, the dance of champions, and the ultimate surrender. She had to swim, I was able to stroll to the sandbar, my mother a good half a foot shorter than I am, but a much better swimmer, laughed and screamed on the walk over. When we reached the sandbar, seeing how far we were from the lifeguards, we stood… in awe. We didn’t say a word.

We just looked beyond the stillness, confused that such a paradise existed caught in the folds of the chaos of urban life. Things seemed to melt. Exhausted we started to bat around and orientate ourselves towards the shore. She was able to fly with the waves, I have always struggled to navigate in the surf. In spite of people calling me “fish” my entire life, I was not a swimmer. I just loved the ocean. Walking back proved difficult and with the little knowledge of swimming I had, I felt a doggy paddle would literally save my life. Mom notices I wasn’t right behind, or alongside her this time. 

She stops.

Elliott, give me your hand.

She’s not a swimmer, either. Holding her hand, I felt, would’ve jeopardized both of our lives. I’m someone who walks through the water, if I can’t feel the floor, I panic. I ask her to stay where she is, because I am not drowning - yet - and her trying to play a superhero wouldn’t work here. I try to float on my back, the one thing I know that I can do in the ocean.

My head above water, just my nose and eyes, I lift my chin and draw in the deepest breath a wine-drunk, pothead, could take, and then I let the ocean take me. Was I prepared to die? Mentally, yes, in that last breath I wasn’t ready to give up, but I process, “this might be a life changer if these sons of bitches have to resuscitate me.” I accept this fate, begrudgingly, only because I know; to draw in water to the lung, begins the physical effects of drowning and I did not want to suffer. I sank to the bottom, still on the breath, and once my feet made contact, I let my rump touch the ocean floor. I spring as high as I can, and attempt to land on my back, and that’s when I felt it.

Around my waist I felt a pressure, pull, drag, grabbed me, my ankle, my body, sucked beneath the surface. I check my ankles, perhaps I got caught in some seaweed, or I’m now a victim of a shark attack… in New York. Just my luck. Okay. Focus, don’t die. Try again. And again. And again. Again. I am officially drowning. It wasn’t until I felt that hand around my leg again that I stuck my hand out, signaling my mother to call the lifeguard. I do black out, but it must have been for just a moment because I didn’t swallow water, but I don’t remember how long I was under before I felt the lifeguard yank me up to the surface. I remember the screaming, and seeing a load of people -- because a dozen others had followed my mother and I out to the sandbar, and the surf pushed us closer and closer to the wooden pilings that section off the beach, and the majority of us were caught in the riptides that form around the jetty. I haven’t been to the ocean since. I can’t even remember what year that was. I just know it was in August. I will guess maybe 2012… or 13.