by Shirley Dees
We fell in love in the ocean.
“Supposed to be decent action today,” you said. Your hair glistened in the striking sun as the waves rocked us between the depths of the sea and the shallow shores.
“Hope so,” I answered. A single afternoon stolen from the onslaught of crazy days. I only wanted to surf and catch set after set, never planning to find you there and fall in love amidst the aquatic waters. We bobbed on the surface like a pair of buoys, our eternities building in the distance, rising like the initial swell, cresting and racing toward us. We caught the next wave and rode it all the way in to the sand, back to dry land and our life together.
We stole so many afternoons after that first. We filled the beach with laughter, riding the waves and taking turns. We paddled out into the vacant water just to be alone, to squeeze sunlight out of the clouds, the glare reflecting in your grey eyes. I never knew such colors could be so wonderful. When we kissed, we abandoned the swells, allowing the water to fall over our heads and baptize our love.
We rented a one-bedroom apartment on the fourth floor; a view of the shimmering ocean from our window. We never asked each other for anything. We made love in our bed, deep in a sea of blankets. You bought me books instead of flowers, cupcakes instead of chocolates. You knew my thoughts before I spoke them, passed new bottles of soap over the shower curtain before I asked for them. You told me you loved me in a million different ways.
“Marry me,” you asked in calm waters, tracing your thumb around the space of my finger, sunscreen leaving a film on my skin. I never dreamt of what our wedding would be like. I only imagined our lives, our marriage, and our afternoons in the sea and all the times we’d get to ride the waves, together.
“Of course,” I said, straddling my board, my legs and heart caressed by the ocean and your touch simultaneously. There was no pondering in the water where everything was so certain and fit like the wet suits kissing our skin.
Unfortunately, the reflection from the water was replaced by the fluorescent beams of surgical rooms. Sunscreen switched for lotion to ease radiation burns. The illness was so fierce, and it found its way into me, deep and puncturing. You carried so much for me, for us.
“Please, stay with me.” Your words were filled with so much pleading. I did all I could to try. We did our best to keep life moving at a similar pace and filled our universe with the familiar joys we’ve always loved. The waxy bottoms of our surfboards, the churning shorelines and crashing waves, chicken and shrimp tossed in Alfredo sauce. Each other. But our eternity was looming, building larger on its approach, ready to swallow us up and steal all that we’d built. You doted on me, just as you had before there were doctors and pills and pictures of my insides for everyone to see. You loved me even when I began to shrink into myself and the ring you placed on my finger no longer fit. We weren’t going to make it to marriage, but we said our vows all the same.
You hung our surfboards in the garage. “Just until the summer,” you said, claiming our temporary situation. Anything to make this a truth.
“Of course,” I said, but I knew my time to leave was imminent.
On my last day, you carried me out to the sand and we watched the ocean waves, rubbing granules across my legs so I could feel their earthy roughness come alive in the environment that brought us together. I want you to know I didn’t need the water. I didn’t need the waves. I had you, and I had us. I had enough.
You’re lying next to me now, asleep in the only other sanctuary we shared beside the sea. I yearn to run my fingers through your honey-hued hair and place a palm on your chest to feel the warmth of life running beneath your skin. The comforter and pillows swirl, and I dive in, sinking into the darker parts of the unknown waters. The blanket of waves crashes over our heads, the sea luring me out to its depths and pulling you to the shallow shores of life. Our final set of swells has arrived. Eternity is racing toward me. I reach for you, but I do not wake you. Moments like this, more moments with you, we will steal no more. Our goodbye will be said in silence.
I hope you will forgive me, for leaving in such quiet. I am grateful for everything we have stolen since that first afternoon in the sea, however short, however beautiful it was.
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Shirley Dees received an MFA from Spalding University’s School of Creative and Professional writing in Spring 2021. When not writing, Shirley is busy parenting, seeking sunshine, and sampling local craft brews. She lives in east Alabama with her husband, daughter, and geriatric pet turtle.