What would it be like to be embraced by the ocean? To feel its depth, to taste its salt, to meet the creatures that live inside the kelp forests? Could she become part of this wilderness? Would her internal wild woman emerge? How would that feel?
Lisa often wonders.
She’s sitting on her comfortable couch, a plaid over her legs, a mug of tea in her hand. Not a very exciting thing to do for a thirty-year-old on a Saturday night. But well. She cannot be bothered to go out tonight. Not after yesterday’s big fight with Robert.
They had reconciled afterward, as usual, but still, something has been broken yesterday. She cannot name it yet, but she needs time to ponder. And she definitely doesn’t want to meet him in a crowded pub, blinded by too much alcohol.
She flips the TV-channels, waiting for… Well, waiting for what? Something to inspire her, perhaps. Her mind drifts to the ocean. Holidaying at the Cape got her juices flowing.
The feeling of being on that boat, knowing there was a whole world of wonder beneath her, left her stunned. She had never thought of the ocean as a living being, but on that boat, she had definitely felt it was alive. Beating its heartbeat of breaking waves.
Lisa is catapulted into the present when she sees images of joyfully playing dolphins appear on her TV-screen. A woman is swimming amongst them. Freediving. A black-haired woman in a bikini with just a mask, snorkel and fins.
Did she see it correctly? Is the woman pregnant? No mistake possible, she swims with calf. Lisa giggles. With calf. Next she knows, the woman is talking on screen. Her name is Leina Sato, a city girl born in Tokyo, raised in Paris. Lisa increases the volume.
“My relationship with the sea grew quietly, as I nurtured a dream to swim one day with dolphins in the wild. […] I’m just swimming eye to eye with a dolphin and the exchange happening is so powerful. Sometimes it seems they see much more of me than I’m able to perceive myself. ”
As Lisa listens to Leina’s words, the sound drifts away quietly. She floats, her feet are in fins and her hair is loosely flowing around her head. Her mask shows her a world of wonder. Light filters in from above and she can distinguish a school of brightly colored fish going left, going right, never even touching. She watches mesmerized.
And then she sees the dolphin. He swims up to her belly and she doesn’t know what she feels. Fear? Love? Wonder? No, it’s definitely uncomfortable. The dolphin touches her skin very lightly with his nose and she wants to scream. But how do you scream in a snorkel mask? This is getting way out of control. Where is she? Why is she here? Is there a boat?
Breathe, Lisa, breathe, she commands herself. And slowly, she feels how she regains control over her nerves. Meanwhile, the dolphin swims around her and she feels her body reacting as if in a dance. She doesn’t know the music but it’s luring her in. Music without sound, movement without muscle tension.
She follows the heartbeat of the waves and what emerges is a gracious dance with a dolphin. He goes up, she goes up. He turns, she turns. He tumbles, she tries to tumble and fails. She feels how a smile is possible in this mask and she names him Bob.
Then Bob’s family appears. She knows they belong together, but she doesn’t know how she knows. Their rhythm is somehow coherent, their bodies circle around each other as if in greeting. One dolphin is guiding a little one along. The calf. She thinks about the woman with calf and wonders whether Leina will have given birth yet.
Meanwhile, the group members take her in. They enfold her with their bodies and she feels a warm sense of belonging. This is her home, this is her family, this is her church.
Her swimming dance gets more daring, more feminine, more explicit. She knows they’re watching and somehow she doesn’t care. What will they see? Her body is definitely more fleshed out than Leina’s. Her hips broader, her bosom bigger, her belly showing rolls of fat. But does it matter to them?
Seriously, what will they see? She makes some daring moves, tries again to tumble and succeeds this time. A warm sensation of achievement fills her veins.
And again she asks herself what will they see? Do they grab the sense of who she really is? But who is she, really? Does she know? Bob comes up to her and invites her to dance again. As if to say: “Stop thinking, stop worrying, just dance with me and you’ll be okay.” And during that dance, it happens.
Face to face with Bob she sees. She sees the world turning, she sees her own little space on this planet, she sees the whole big picture and all small details in one.
It’s a flash, a spark, a feeling that nothing matters and everything matters. Her heart stops and starts again. This time in a slower beat, lighter, joyous, a laughing heart.
But the laughter comes with gasps. She feels how her lungs struggle to keep up the pace. Before, the light filtered through the surface, but where is the surface now? She stepped into a different dark.
Which way is up? It seems as if Bob dances down, and down, and down. Where is he leading her?
Suddenly she remembers the story her Japanese friend Yuna once told her when they were swimming in the lake behind her house. It was a warm day and after some gardening, eating, joking and sweating, they had jumped in. The lake was very different from this ocean, smaller, muddy and cold.
Suddenly, Yuna started swimming faster. She really increased her speed to reach the shore. Lisa struggled to keep up and out of breath, she asked Yuna what happened to make her want to get out so fast.
“I just remembered,” answered Yuna. “It’s the 23rd of August and we’re not supposed to be swimming in a lake after the 15th.”
“Why not?” Lisa asked.
“Well, my grandmother always told me: my ancestors would grab my legs and drag me down in natural water after the 15th of August.”
“And you believe that?”
And then Yuna said something Lisa had always remembered.
“It’s not about believing,” she said. “It’s about respect. We connect to nature and we connect to our ancestors and we should respect both to live a happy life.”
Afterward, they had sat for a while in the forest and said thanks to the living beings around them. To the soil, the plants and the trees. To the rocks, the skies, and the clouds. And obviously, they also thanked their ancestors. Who had luckily not dragged them down this time…
But what about right now? Lisa’s head is spinning with a lack of oxygen as she tries to remember the date of today. August 20? 21? Definitely after the 15th though. Stop thinking, Lisa, listen to your body and get the hell out of here.
Her breath comes in little gasps now and she tries to feel which way is up. Bob is nowhere to be seen. Where’s a friend when you need him?
The darkness surrounds her like needles and pins. Stabbing her, hurting her, tasting bitter like Brussels sprouts before frost. The ocean has climbed into her ears to make them pound and rustle. Her belly flutters, her lungs ache, what ancestors will want to do this to her?
Her grandmother Poppy, the herb collector with kind hands who held her when she fell down? Her own father perhaps, whom she had never met, but was never spoken of very kindly by her mother? Or…
Lisa drifts off. Her mind clouds over and the last molecules of light fail to reach her. The dark is all over her, inside her, filling her up. When she feels the ever so light touch from a dolphin, it comes as a surprise.
Is it Bob? She doesn’t think so. She can’t see anything, but the dolphin feels female. She’s under Lisa’s fins now, pushing her up, and up and up. And when the dolphin gives the final shove, she’s on her couch again, gasping for breath.
The TV is silent. The screen is black. What has just happened? It takes Lisa a while to get her breath back. And when she does, some clarity comes with it. The feeling of warmth and belonging is still there, as is the fright of drowning.
For some reason, her hands go to her belly and she realizes the truth of what she did not want to admit before. Her calf. She will have to talk to Robert at some point, but not yet.
To keep her baby safe now’s the time for thanksgiving to all of her ancestors. Including that spiteful aunty Meg, who always pinched her when she wasn’t polite enough. She smiles when she turns off the light and walks up to her bedroom. Everything for a safe and happy calf.