When the world falls apart, I return to the analog.

January  15, 2021 / Hannah Coursey

To be human is to touch.

I am an island amongst islands, surrounded by the sea. Somehow I’ve endured the past six months of perpetual low tide–but as each day passes, the distance between myself and others magnifies, accompanied by swelling emotions of loneliness and gloom. Plunging into the water is dangerous, so I stand firmly on my own shore.

Yet, I can’t help but be enthralled by the glistening of the silky, melodious ocean waves. Their rhythm provides reassurance in such an unstable world, and I try to harmonize my breath with their beat. My lungs accept the salty air and then release it as the waves crash between my toes. What a lovely thought–my body’s cadence matched by the whims of nature. The glow, the gushing noise pulls me in again.

Just one jump in won’t hurt, right?

And so I do it. I dive into the deep blue water and suddenly I’m back in seventh grade, perched on a cold metal bench in the girls’ locker room. I’m getting ready for gym class and awaiting a childhood rite of passage–getting my hair braided. My friend rakes her fingers through my long, brown hair, her nails grazing my scalp ever so softly. My head begins to tingle as she crosses strands of hair and the sensation swiftly travels down my spine. After a few minutes, her small fingers reach into the pit of my palm, grabbing a hair tie. When she secures the braid there’s a sharp tug on individual pieces of hair, but I don’t mind. It felt nice.

I come up for air from under the blanket of the sea, breathing in urgently and deeply. One of my hands swings up to the crown of my head and feels the spot where that braid used to lay. The waves seem to notice my nostalgia, wrapping me in a sweet embrace, and earning in return my belly laughter. Why did they say the water was dangerous again?

I decide to go under the surface once more—this time I wind up at a rooftop party with my friends. In our pursuit of the alluring center of the dancing crowd, my shoulders brush past the bodies of countless strangers. Side by side, our sweaty hands interlock firmly as if we believe letting go will release the magic of the moment with it. We sway freely, hips colliding often.

Until suddenly, it cuts out. Dance circles of clasped hands are replaced with masses of covered faces. The ocean water becomes choppy, tumultuous, and I start to panic.

What is happening?

Instinctively, my feet flutter me back to safety on the shore of my island. I calm my ragged breath, hoping the waves will follow suit–but nothing changes. A shiver runs down my spine, only this sensation feels foreign compared to the warm, expansive tingle the braid once gave me. Pleading, yelling, crying out to the sea for an answer does no good, and I’m left sprawled out on the sand alone.

My thoughts buzz, oscillating between blaming myself, and blaming nature. But the blame doesn’t lead to resolution, so I decide to shift my perspective.
As I observe my beloved ocean become a turbulent storm, I begin to wonder if maybe it’s better, for a while. For the sea to resolve itself and for me to be alone. Accepting the unknown releases my anguish, and I’m comforted by the wealth of what I do know–my memories. The scrape of nails on my scalp. The curl of my friend’s fingers around my own. While I collect myself at my spot sitting on the sand, I gather my memories too. Eventually, I retreat to my island with them–my new silky, melodious ocean waves. And even as the storm continues to weather behind me, I look ahead–for this too shall pass.■

This article was written as a part of Spark Writing’s first annual summer workshop series, Words With Friends: A Spark Writer’s Summer!

Graphic By: Juleanna Culilap

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