The full moon hung, fecund and creamy, in the black morning sky. The silence reverberated against my eardrum: no birds, no cars, no garbage truck. Because of the absolute darkness, I felt I lied when I wished my husband good morning.
I leaned back against the passenger seat of our car; the mean uglies of the unnatural earliness kept me silent. And I knew I had no right to torture him with grumpiness. This trip was my birthday wish, my spiritual journey: he had no desire to drive across the state and watch the sun rise over the ocean on the first day of spring. He must have agreed, for he kept the silence with me in those predawn hours as we tunneled through a line of trees, broken by the occasional small town.
As the moon sank to the top of the scrub pines, I slid back into the skin I'd been startled from by my early rising. I smiled at him.
"How are you doing?"
He smiled back. "Fine."
"Thank you for doing this for me."
"You're welcome," he said as he rubbed his hand on my closest knee.
I leaned my head on the window and watched a rim of gray seep upwards from the horizon. The buildings around me pulled back from the darkness and developed lines of their own.
With each increase in light, I grew more excited. My senses sprang awake as we began the familiar climb into the duo-tone sky. Then, my breath stopped from the sudden shock of the sea at the foot of the intra-coastal bridge. I opened the window; sea air flooded the car, heavy with impending morning.
As we pulled into the beach parking lot, I felt a sudden urge to hurry.
"Come on," I said. "We'll miss it."
I ran to the dune bridge and tapped my hand on the rail as I waited for him. He quick-stepped to my side and we walked up the stairs. We stopped at the top and stared in wonder at what we saw.
The horizon was a band of living fire pressed against a luminous white sky. The ocean glowed like a lighted swimming pool, a seething pale-green cauldron of activity. A kettle of pelicans swarmed: they circled in a wild dance and dove--synchronized, one, next, three--into the fertile swells offshore.
I felt his hand wrap through mine and we walked down the beach to wait for the sunrise. We had to pick our way around the dead jellyfish that littered the sand, licked by the retreating waves, pecked by the predatory seagulls.
Suddenly, we stopped, with wordless agreement, to obey the instinct that ran up and down the coast. Like everyone else, we turned together and faced the ocean. He wrapped his arms around me and I leaned back against his chest.
The moon slipped below the horizon. The sun hovered beneath the sea. The world paused with a skipped heartbeat. For the moment, there was no guardian in the sky.
Then, the first primeval rim of red slipped over the horizon. The sun, dissolving the mist, climbed the sky and left a path atop the water, under the pelicans' wings, across the jellyfish, to my feet.
It came to me, then, that all things merge back to the sea. My bones and skin and heart will melt into the earth and then ride the rain and the rivers back to ocean. I will be lifted back off the ocean in clouds and fall back to the earth as rain; I will water the plants that live and die, dissolve into the earth, and begin again. In this way, I will live forever--an eternal cycle from the ocean and back again.
My heart filled with wildness and life, bursting all my borders until I felt no degree of separation between myself and the wind and the sky and the water. Some of this glow moved from me to my husband: I felt the ridges in my fingertips heat through the process of transmission. Then the glow must have moved to his heart, for he stripped off his shirt and pants and dove into the ocean.
Man and sea merged, each with a shriek at the sudden return. He disappeared beneath the dazzle of gold on the frothing water. I watched in laughter and then in anxiety as the minutes stretched. Then the surface of the ocean opened and he, Poseidon, burst forth, bathed in gold from the sun and the sea. He sprayed water in founts around him and gave the same shriek he gave upon entering.
He looked so glorious, my heart clamped with pain and love. He was so alive, full of courage and hope and the sap of his own life. He waded out to me, still golden in the childhood sun. He shook water in all directions, then shrugged into the sweater I held out to him, his skin pimpled with cold.
He leaned down and kissed me. The familiar pattern of his taste, mixed with the salt of the ocean, shook me with a sudden wave of love that left a shore of fear in its wake.
I realized then that he, too, will die. His bones and heart and soul will melt into the earth and run back into the ocean, but I will never know him again. We will both be changed forever, baptized by rebirth. Should he die before me, he will be irretrievably gone, no ghost to haunt me. In the end, I will be alone.
The sun stretched our shadows, ten feet tall, along the beach. The sky deepened to early morning blue; the morning held the world in an inexorable grip.
I looked up at him. The nimbus around his face was so bright my eyes burned. A wave of proactive grief passed through me. My chest constricted as I clamped down on the pain that wanted to tear from my throat.
I tunneled into his arms and chest. I rested there until our scattered heartbeats slowed to the steady pulse of our life together.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
I could not tell him. "Just a little cold," I said. I wanted to move the moment to lighter ground, so I laughed with the jerky edges of just-passed pain. "How could you jump into that icy-cold ocean? Wasn't it awful?"
"No, it was wonderful. It was the best thing I've ever done."
I stared at him.
"No, really. Sure, it was terrible going in, and it was terrible coming out--cold! But for just a split second, everything was perfect. I felt so…alive!"
I stood and watched his face, rimmed in golden sun, shimmering sky, and moving sea. The wave of fear troughed, followed again by a peak of joy. I knew then why I should bother to love at all. The moments in between; the salty taste of spring. The moon below the horizon while the sun waits in the wings.
We turned to go, but still I saw the sun's beam upon the water, glittering a beautiful and terrible path to the heart of the ocean.
BIO: Tracie Vida is a writer and conservationist living in Gainesville. When she is not busy saving sea turtles, she is either writing music and book reviews for Rambles.net, an online literary magazine, or hiding from the heat with her husband and their tyrannical dog, Kaya.