The First Time I saw the Ocean

by practicalspactical

When I was a kid, growing up among the rowhouse duplexes of Benson St in Northeast Philadelphia, behind the rowhouses, there was what seemed to me as a child a great dark wood, and once a year, on a day between the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement, my parents would take me into the wood, with bread crumbs in my hand, and we would walk along a dark dirt path until we came to a swiftly moving stream of clear water. Then, we would take the bread, and throw it in the water — the bread was supposed to represent my sins, but being three years old, I had few sins, and imagine I was more interested watching the crumbs ride the streaming water out of sight.

Walking along that stream, my legs growing longer as I walked, the baby fat falling from my cheeks, my eyes growing sharper, I followed that stream to where it joined another, and then another, and then emptied into the great gray Delaware River, north of the great industrial shipyards and refineries, where the the far distant bank was clothed in evergreen trees.

Walking farther, taller again, I take the river past the great Post-Industrial City of my youth and young adulthood. I stand over the river in a cemetary, burying my uncle in January snow and mud. Older now, full of some fiery intensity and a madness of eyes kept too wide open, I followed the river to a great long-reeded marsh. Children are calling to each other from within the long grass. Trash floats by on the water. I put a cigarette to my lips.

Farther now, over the marsh, I stand on sand, heaped up ground up rock and stardust, standing there, beneath the scattered blue starlight of day, the water dragged towards me by some great invisible satellite. I sit amongst the grains of sand, counting a few, moving some from here to there, engaged in great industry, trying to forget all I know of sandcastles, tides, and time —

I have not yet seen the ocean. Many waters, and many seas, but I have not yet seen the ocean.