What Makes Us Whole
What Makes Us Whole By Megan Bradley “Get up, we’re going to the beach.” I groaned in response to her familiar voice and rolled over in what was left of my childhood bed- a mattress on the floor with my old iron headboard leaning against the wall, looming over my head. Maybe one day it’ll fall on top of me, I’d hope frequently, as I spent all my time in bed. I blamed her for letting me stay there, but the truth is, I wouldn’t have left. I’d be in the ocean as early as March most years, imagining the waves were obstacles I had to beat up to make my way deeper into the waters and then, in turn, they’d become a loving force, guiding me as I rode them into shore. It was late-June and I hadn’t been to the beach once. The idea of wearing clothes that clung to my body any more than my brothers XXL basketball shorts and tshirts was terrifying; exposing my body like that. You’d be asking for it, just like you did that night,I reminded myself. I pushed aside my array of colorful and bright two-pieces and chose a black racerback one-piece from my days on the high school swim team. I slipped on the baggy shorts and t-shirt my older brother had no choice but to lend me over it. My bruises had faded completely but they might as well been a day old as far as I was concerned. I got in the car and she knew I wasn’t happy. She knew I was curious as to where she was getting at, too. I looked at her face; so beautiful but weathered. Weathered in a way that makes broken glass into beach glass; softer, experienced, more beautiful, except not dull. She could never be dull. Just… tired. That’s your fault I thought, and decided to not bite her head off, as I did most days. I was just so angry. And she was always there to absorb it. When I realized we were going out to Montauk, I softened. I was glad we wouldn’t run into anyone we knew, but at the same time going to a familiar place. A place I spent my summers as a kid. Innocent, sunkissed, and salty. Oblivious to my fathers drinking. To my parents semblance of a marriage. Before life got hard. Before that night. She expertly turned into a parking spot close to the beach. We got out of the car and my anxiety lurched. I wasn’t sure I could take another step. The smell of the waves, the breeze, the all-too familiar soundtrack of gulls crying and waves crashing didn’t have the tranquilizing effect it always did. Dear God don’t take this from me, too I prayed. I don’t consider myself particularly religious, but I figured He owed me one. When the concrete parking lot turned to sand I liked how cold it felt engulfing my toes. I liked the way it made the little hairs on my legs stand up. We walked about halfway out between the dunes and shoreline and sat down quietly next to each other. I looked out at nothing, she looked over at me. It was a sunny, and not a cloud in sight, but still chilly for almost-July. I could feel her studying my face, feel her face saddening seeing how hard mine had become. Someone had said I’d lost my light, I can’t remember who it was, but I suppose it was a good way to describe me at the time. “I’m going to go feel the water, want to come?” No. It was my answer to most questions. She decided not to fight me on it today. I watched her as she walked, gracefully, away from me, wondering what part of her was apart of me. She came back and told me it was freezing and took her place next to me again, filling in the imprint she’d left behind in the sand. I felt the energy between us shift. She’s going to say something, I thought, She’s going to try and say some profound shit to try and save me. I decided to say something first. I’m going in. I quickly and painfully peeled off my clothes. There weren’t many people on the beach, and I knew none of them were paying any particular kind attention to me, but still I tightly folded my arms over my chest, hunched over to make myself feel as unnoticeable as possible, and walked towards the water. I didn’t stop walking until I was waist-deep with a wave crashing towards me. I stood there waiting for it to knock me over, the white foam about to swallow my outstretched fingertips, and then I ducked under it last minute. It was my own version of playing chicken. The swirls and force of the water around me brought me back to that night. Flashes of being pulled and held and grabbed and touched unwantedly raced through my head. Under the wave, I began to scream. Bubbles rose out of my mouth and popped all over my face, and I screamed for all that was taken from me. I screamed and screamed until I needed to take a breath and even then I wish I didn’t have to stop. When I broke the waters surface and filled my empty lungs, I opened my eyes and saw I was facing the horizon. I looked towards my left, then right– it all seemed so endless. There is so much more than this, I thought, I am so small. Swimming towards the shore, towards my mother, I thought of how there was probably more grains of sand on the beaches of Montauk than there were people on Earth. At least you’re not a grain of sand. But for the last month and a half, I’d felt ruined. Dirty. Small. Angry. So angry. The five showers I took daily never helped me to feel cleaner, despite my raw, pink skin. But as I swam towards the shore in synch with the oceans current, I felt cleaner. Lighter. Out there I had metaphorically let go of a small piece of something I shouldn’t have, but still was, holding onto. It must’ve shown as I walked back towards our sitting place, as I saw my mothers face look a little less concerned and a little more relaxed. She handed me a towel, and I quickly dried off and put my clothes back on, taking my place next to her, filling in the imprint I had left behind in the sand. I told her about what happened out there, under the water. I told her how I realized control can be taken from me both naturally and unnaturally. Control was something I’d been struggling with, even in the smallest of the sense. I’d always liked the way the force of the ocean had felt, because I’d always imagined I had this unspoken agreement with it: I’ll respect your raw natural power, and you won’t kill me. I knew I had no control over the ocean, but I never felt out-of-control in it. We discussed how that night I did everything I could to survive, and now I was living as though I were dead. That I was afraid of losing control again, of taking a chance, of not feeling safe. Something needs to change I thought, and I made myself a promise then. You let go of something here– leave it, move on, do something. Some days I didn’t keep that promise, some days I did. That was four years ago. Since then, I’ve experienced and felt and loved and lost more than the twenty years I lived before it. It would be wrong to say I’m glad that night happened, but it would be wrong to say I’m not grateful for what good has come from it. The places and people I’ve experienced because of it. The strength it’s given to me to deal with the horrors I’ve faced since. The appreciation I have towards the man I’ve fallen in love with. The absolute adoration I have toward my incredible mother. I still hold onto a piece, because it’s mine, because I’m not sure I’ll ever be whole in the way people think you should be, but it’s the pieces we choose to put ourselves back together with that make us us. That makes us whole.