There are times when I think, I tell myself, that life will get no easier than it is today. No husband, no mortgage, not even a cat to care for. Just me. And if I decided to simply turn around and pursue a different life, one less chosen by most, one less approved by my parents, one less paid, it could be possible and wholly fulfilling. Today, I’m filled with such possibilities and I think back to a path I didn’t decide to follow.
I studied Marine Biology once, on the Outer Banks, on an island with no adults.
I worked outside for the summer, thighs deep in water, sleeves damp and soggy. Hours were spent chasing buried clams, slipping in the wet sand, tossing fistfuls at each other, dodging long curled pieces once we learned they were worm poop. Crab pots hauled over and hoisted up brought new life to our homemade aquariums, and it was from there that I plucked a big orange sea-snail--known after that day as Jonas--cupped him in my hands and sped-walked to the classroom, and gently as a mother’s touch, released him into my watery glass box.
We wore skinned knees and burnt shoulders every day after the first. We were ten years old again, but with a Jeep with no doors and no roof, and we drove fast and far with our feet hanging out to the road and the wind. We camped in the sand in Ocracoke, ten to a tent, and pumped a keg that we sneaked over the ferry under a blanket. We kicked phosphorescent tides up onto our legs and pushed each other in the moonlight as we filled our cups, then lay down right on the sand to watch the stars to the tune of the car radio, turned up as far as it could go.
We slept in triple bunk bends and stomached mess-hall meals. The food was off--everything tasted a bit like seaweed because of the air. After dark, we shot pool at the only bar in town; the Royal James, and it was there that, for the first time, I heard Janis Joplin’s mournful rasp in “Bobby McGee” over chicken tenders with hot sauce.
There was an island across from our island, and wild ponies were the only inhabitants, though they were squat and slow, they were wild still, and we watched them run across the salt-licked hills in groups of three and four. We sat in a rickety boat with a bum motor, puttering as far out as we could in the sound, and studied wild dolphins that followed us, flipping and frolicking and the professor told us that dolphins were the only other animals in the entire world that had sex for pleasure, and that’s what they were doing in a big heap next to the boat, and we turned our eyes away to be polite.
Today, I wonder, if it’s too late to go back. To alternate my gaze between the miscroscope and the ocean. To pursue that life lost, that summer spent when nothing mattered but the weather and the water conditions.