April 25, 2014
I was probably a ¼ mile away from the cop, and out in the sea, but the cop car driving the back of the beach with his flashing lights and spotlight kept making me jerk and tighten like he was on me. I told myself three times he couldn’t see me.
Because of the low tide I had to swim farther out. After-midnight run and swim. No wind, low tide, and very calm water.
From shore, with the waves just barely rolling in, the flat night sea looked like milky jade. But out in it, clear as glass. Even in the dark moon. No moon at all. Just a spare splash of stars – and red Mars – in the black sky overhead, the others washed out by the upward sprawl of city glow.
I did a double-take. Tiny bright stars in the water were lighting up yellow-green and tumbling off my arm strokes before they winked out.
I hadn’t seen bioluminescence in a few years, and never in Florida. Only in that hidden lagoon where you have to night kayak through the mangroves on the east side of Puerto Rico, and also on the west shore of Jamaica.
Tiny microorganisms that light up with the friction of something passing through, an arm or leg or whole body passing through water. Person or fish. Not a large burst of them here, just a silent handful of falling stars. I swirled my arms. I cupped my hand like Jodie Foster did with those sparkling grains of desert sand at the end of that extraordinary film Contact.
Over the last week I’ve been getting through the shocking acceptance that I attach to abuse. How can that be! I have this self-image of what we call “gym-thug” lol. I’m not talking about physical (though it’s true a long time ago I sometimes did find myself getting involved with possessive mf’s who might want to pull a knife or fists when they got mad). (Only thing about me is I’ll fight back.)
A man and woman were standing on shore silhouetted against the low lights of South Beach’s Ocean Drive behind the dunes.
“Aint it cold out there?” the dude asked as I walked out in my black long-cut boxer briefs with the red waistband. Don’t hate – I’m a fool for premium Chanpion athletic fit gear.
“Naah it feels great.”
“Does the beach close at night? Is there a time?’ the woman asked. You could tell by the sync of their voices that they loved each other.
“Naah, not really. You saw the cop, but they’re mainly interested in making sure no homeless people sleep or set up camp overnight.”
“You were far out,” the dude said. “I was like, ‘there’s somebody out there!’ Aren’t you a little scared to go out there?”
I tried to imagine from their eyes, from shore, noticing this head out there in the plain of water in the dark. Then seeing this light-skinned black-something dude with abs emerging out of the sea like a Creature From the Black Lagoon.
“Push through fear,” I said, smiling, sheeting some of the water off the side of my head with my hand.
“Push through fear,” he repeated.
“We’re from Louisville,” she said.
“Kentucky,” I said. “That’s one of those places you hear about but most people never go, huh. Except for – isn’t that the place they have that horse derby?” I realized they probably hear the same damn thing from every person they meet. “Where the women wear them big hats?”
For a moment I tried to visualize what it would be like to live there, south of the Ohio River, and what I knew of the black communities there. I think there is a lot of interchange between Louisville and Cincinnati.
I thought of Beloved, and that story of the land, of journey through wilderness not yet fallen, and bare feet. The American story is particularly the story of people on the land.
“Yes. We’re here on vacation,” she said. “It’s our first time here.”
They asked questions. We talked like family. I told them about some of the regular-life, non-tourist places like Flamingo Park, where people play basketball and hang out.
I told them about the bioluminescence I’d just seen. I leaned my head back and pointed up at the flung stars. The only way I could explain. Again I had that open country feeling of hugeness all around me. I’m such a plainsman.
They told me they had seen some “really big seals. Right off the beach!”
I didn’t understand. Turns out they were manatees. Big ass sea cows. Endangered. Not many left.
She pulled out a little camera to show me. The screen was so bright. The electronic image of water too. I’ve never seen a manatee. In the pic there were three large blobs in the bright blue midday water. I kept trying to finger-expand the image, not registering that it was a camera and not a phone. Just like sometimes I’ll keep pushing my hands under a public bathroom faucet with handles and getting mad it won’t turn on.
I wished them a great vacation. People work hard and deserve quality time in a nice place with those they love. I felt proud like a local.
I know I’m behind on the dive study, but I’m getting better.