The moon is almost full on the night I land in Thailand. I am all by myself. I have to admit I was still secretly hoping that Roger would come for a visit because in the past he had done impulsive things like surprise me in tropical locals for a weekend of sexy hedonism but this time he declined. In fact, Roger has stopped returning all my texts and emails since we broke up again, for good this time, and I have flown to Thailand heartsick and humiliated and am now curled up alone like a potato bug in my little bungalow on the beach.
In the morning I get a message out of the blue “I need a cuddle right now, I feel crappy.”
I look at the phone as I lay in my hammock. I smoke half of my secret cigarette for the day. I hear a buzz and it’s another text. He writes “Are you there? I would love a snuggle?”
Hearing from him hurts so good.
I run down to my friend’s hut, a woman who also happens to have her doctorate in psychology and I show her the text. She says “only respond to him if he has something useful or new to say, not if it’s just some needy ass spur of the moment bullshit.”
I take a deep breath and for the first time in our six-year love affair, I ignore him.
I have to physically hold myself back. I turn the phone off. I put it in my backpack and I remove myself from the bungalow. I sneak another smoke from the neighbor’s porch and I head down to the beach for a coconut smoothie.
It feels like I’m going against all my natural impulses but I would count it as a very small success.
That night, with a huge full moon looking down on us I find myself hanging out with strangers. We are doing yoga on the beach, eating fried fish and listening to a guy play bad cover songs on his 2 string guitar. The way the moonlight hits the water it looks like there is a florescent path that will lead me straight out to sea.
I walk down the beach until I am all by myself and in complete darkness. I take off my clothes and I place them down in a pile between two distinct trees. I walk into the water. There are no waves and the trail of light leads me deep into the ocean. I scoop water onto my thighs and the sand is like baby powder. I let my knees go and as I swoop down and cover myself with the silky wet night, warmth pours over my shoulders. I shallow dive under and I’m in.
I swim out for a bit, I can still touch but it is very black all around me. I flip and splash. I’m a baby seal. I do the breaststroke. I’m a lonely dolphin…I float and bob for awhile alone in the darkness, listening to the coral crackling underneath…and then it hits me- SHARKS.
Whenever I travel always have to ask about sharks. If I don’t know the language I will speak slowly and loud. “Sharks? Are there S.H.A.R.K.S in this bay? You know…” then I pretend to be a shark, bearing my teeth, swerving around flicking my tail. I put my palm vertical on the top of my head like a fin and I act like Jaws. When we were travelling together Roger would always say “You are going to be disappointed until you finally do get attacked one day.” I have an extreme fear, like I get nervous in swimming pools.
So suddenly I think “Sharks” and the night is not romantic anymore and I’m no longer empowered. I’m going to head back in.
“This is ridiculous, there are no sharks in the area, just relax. It’s a full moon, do a hippy ritual or something.”
“ No, sharks come in to the shallows at night to feed and one will smell me because I am exuding fear waves- so probably any shark in the area is zooming dead-eyed towards me right this minute.”
I bob down a bit so my eyes are in line with the water and I look out to sea, it’s like glass- no sharks.
“Come on Em, be here. Don’t be scared. If Roger was here with you- you would stay in.”
True. It is all quite perfect in a moonlit night on a deserted beach in Thailand kinda’ way. I should really be into this. So I try to pretend I’m relaxed.
I lay back down and I start to float. Again, I hear the coral crackling under me, one of the most beautiful sounds in the world. Whenever I’m floating in the ocean and get to hear the sound of my own breath mixed with the coral’s living crackle I cannot help but feel a part of… A FUCKING SHARK!
I see a huge, bloody mouth of a machine tearing out of the ocean and clamping onto the side of my body, ripping my innards out. I feel teeth pulling off my flesh. Pulses of hot adrenaline pump through me. I am sweating in the water. If I had pants to piss in, they would be soaked.
“I’m gong to die tonight and I’m going to die all alone.”
“Just a minute, one more minute. Stay in. Please. You are not alone, the moon is here.”
I look up at the moon and follow her rays across the sky to the horizon where the sea meets her light. Again, I get low in the water so just my eyes are peeking out. I steady myself. It’s incredible really, all this spaciousness and darkness and air and if I look along the moonbeam I can see… A FIN! OH GOD!
“Stop! I am in an ocean in Thailand on a holiday trying to heal my heart and if I get ripped apart by sea wolves then that’s my destiny but I am Not. Going. Anywhere. Anymore.”
I start to cry, because it’s so hard to let go.
“I will lay here and float in my fear.”
Every time a pang shoots through me I stretch it out. I relax my muscles and I breathe and the terror comes and goes and comes and goes like waves lapping.
After awhile I get used to feeling the fear so I’m not so scared of it anymore. I stand up in the water and I lift my chest wide to the moon.
“Be scared. Stay open anyway.”
I splash back down and try to float some more while the saltwater trickles in my eyes.
I stay right with it; with the fear of being alone forever and the fear of being ripped apart by sharks.
“If the worst does happen and I do get killed tonight, well, then at least it will finally be done. There will be nothing left to be scared of.”
I float, I jerk, I shake, I breathe, I float, I let the water hold me up, I jerk, I float, I let the water hold me up…
“Come and get me.”
And in the acceptance of the possibility that tonight I may be torn apart for good- comes a bit of power, a bit of sweetness.
It feels like I am cracking my ribs apart and power washing them.
I let it all pour in.
Years later (or maybe it’s closer to forty-five minutes) I stand up.
I drag myself out of the ocean feeling the pull of the water on my thighs as I head in. I do a few silly dolphin dives towards the beach. I try an underwater handstand. I cascade water over my hair as I’m walking towards the tree line, pretending I’m a mermaid emerging from the deep. “One, two, three cascades of water over my head, that one didn’t get in my eyes. Do it again. Okay, one, two, three cascades over my head, salt water all in my eyes…yes. Acceptable.” It doesn’t feel like OCD right now, it feels like a ritual. I splash the water over my head over and over again. I am cleansing. I am reborn. Finally, in the shallows I scan the beach for the two trees along the shore that I left my pile of clothes beside but from the ocean all the trees look exactly the same.
I crawl up onto the beach naked as a turtle and start my search by moonlight.
ps. Here is a photo of my burnt butt the next morning. Just in case you got scared of the shark shots.