I am not the sea

by Carla Magnanimo
Pictures: Nina Weimer

I am an island, no, I have an island, I have an island inside me, is that right, is that the truth? I’m not at all sure, but that’s what it feels like. Far back, inside me, above my stomach, next to my lungs, in that area of the body that no one can really define, that area where you point your finger wordlessly when you think you feel something deep inside you. There where you want to hide yourself, when you curl up like a little amoeba, a little fossil, looking for something that you can’t find after all, simply because it’s so deep inside you. 

There is my island. My island is built of sand. It lies, no, it floats on the sea. At least it exists on a far too wide, far too blue surface, with small white foam crowns that bob back and forth like small hard, sugary egg whites at the confectioner’s.

© Nina Weimer

I swim, no I float, in this cold, blue sea, am tossed back and forth by the waves, am pulled down, spat out and driven on. Sometimes the sea lets me near my island, washes me almost so close to the shore that I can already smell the all suffocating sand. Only to pull me back into the depths with a little gloating splash.

My island has sand, hot, saffron-yellow sand that runs through your hands, leaving little burn blisters on the tender skin between two fingers. Sand so yellow and hot that it reminds you of freshly cooked polenta, lush and satisfying. The sand on my island burns your feet if you don’t run fast enough into the shade, and yet I like to try it again and again, staying standing as long as I can until the soles of my feet start to burn and I panic and run hiding into the shade. There I remain sitting, blowing on the soles of my feet and wondering aloud how I can forget this pain over and over again. And secretly smiling, because no one can hear or see me anyway.

Shadow exists on my island. It is provided by a palm tree that grows in the middle, stoically and slowly, because it cannot be rushed, this palm tree. Its green, wide leaves blow lazily in the wind, like the brim of an old lady’s hat, up and down they move, determined by a melody that no one can hear, but you can feel as a breeze on your skin. My palm tree appears to be sometimes larger and sometimes smaller, as if it were a pumping organ that contracts and expands again. Sometimes I watch it in mute amazement as it pulses lightly in the air, with trembling shadows.

When I first arrived on my island, I could hardly move. On land the sea had spat me, with its muscular waves, as if I weighed nothing, as if I were a small nothing, existing of nothing and consisting of nothing. Sometimes I think the sea hadn’t even noticed that I had spent all that time in it, sometimes curled up like a little fetus, other times with outstretched limbs, flailing wildly. When I didn’t know which way was up or down, because once the sea had managed to swallow you up, well how the hell was anyone supposed to get out of it? Everything around you is the same color, the same consistency, you can’t tell one from the other. In the beginning, I was still swimming. I had faith in the sea. Thought I would arrive, somewhere. Until the first time I was sucked under the surface, swept away by an undertow I hadn’t seen coming. How stupid of you, I thought at the moment when even the last inch of my face was pulled under the water. Silence surrounded me. How stupid of you not to have prepared for it. 

I spent a long time like that. When I was underwater, the silence pressed on my ears and my thoughts were louder than anything else. It was as if the thoughts in my head lined up, little ugly figures, to run past my inner eye one by one, with sardonic grins, in their hands a memory I had once buried deep inside and sworn to leave there, too. The figures handed me these memories like gifts placed at the feet of a hated queen and I couldn’t help but look at them and for a few seconds feel the same shame again, the same scratching in my heart and throat, the same need to crawl inside myself. 

Sometimes the sea spat me out again for fun, released me, gave me back my breath for a moment. Then I let myself drift, spread out on the surface, stretching all my limbs and letting myself feel the sun burn my face. And I knew I didn’t have long. I knew it would happen again. I tried to find signs to predict it, to be prepared, a change in the movement of the waves, in the temperature, I was bent on outsmarting the sea, because she who is smarter than the sea is superior to all other things, yes, almost godlike. Isn’t she?

Of course, I was not smarter. Nothing is smarter than the sea. 

So I floated, I swam, no, I fought, tried to shake off waves, became as heavy as a stone, disappeared, sank into this mute blue, which was actually transparent, but even that didn’t really matter, because who cares what color you sink into when you can’t move anymore, you can’t see anymore and everything tastes like salt, which glues you from the inside?

I don’t remember the first time I arrived on my island. I know it was a moment when I pushed my face through the water, searching for air and sound, for the feel of wind on my skin. And there flashed a yellow streak. At first I was sure it was imagination, perhaps a strange reflection of the sun on the water. But then it appeared a second time. And then I knew, now it would get better. As soon as I would manage to get there, it would get better, because there the sea could not harm me anymore.

© Nina Weimer

Arriving was another matter. The sea was fighting for me. I was almost moved. Until I remembered that it certainly had no noble intentions. The sea was like a depraved husband who beat his wife for years and then started crying and begging when she started packing her bags. 

I had already given up hope, it had long ago submerged in the waters of the sea, staring at me mutely and sadly until, completely shrouded in blue, it was no longer to be seen. I moved my arms, without strength or will, simply to feel in the end that I had done something to free myself from my predicament. 

I closed my eyes. Let myself drift, ready to sink, ready for the feeling of weightlessness on the one hand and panic at the darkness around me on the other. But what I felt beneath me was not infinity. There wasn’t just nothingness. I felt underground. How could that be? I jerked my eyes open again, just in time to see the whitecaps of foam washing around my face, I heard the sound of waves crashing on something solid, seeping into the sand with a soft smacking sound. I felt sand. Under me, sticking to my legs. Scratchy, warm, and moist. My body still reacted before my head and my hands clawed into the ground, pulling me further up, away from the waves, away from the wetness, away from the sea that had held me captive for so long and had now miraculously released me, perhaps without quite realizing it. 

I rose, trembling. My feet sank into the wet sand. Before me stretched a beach, smooth and untouched, as if I were the first living being to enter this place. In the near distance I saw the palm leaves in the wind, gently beckoning me and I put one foot in front of the other, the hot sand hissing under me, propelling me faster, making me run to the edge of the shade, until I could see the trunk of the palm tree and the small spot right next to it, which seemed as if it had been created solely for me, solely for me to rest and catch my breath, to settle down and linger. I first dropped to my knees, then rolled onto my side, breathing in and out, letting the air flow in and out, feeling the changed environment around me. No forces tossing me around without my will, no sneakiness, no guile. Nothing is as honest as sand. 

Still the sea calls to me. Sometimes I sit on my island, under my palm tree in the shade and let the sand run through my fingers. The wind carries the murmur of the sea to me, lets me participate in its intrigues, and I am sitting here, knowing: I’m not going anywhere. 

I am an island, a small pile of sand and a palm tree that gives me shade, that keeps growing and spreads its leaves over me like a blanket. 

I am an island, where I find refuge from what lurks out there, from what tries to find me and threatens to tear me apart. 

I am an island and the sea out there can no longer harm me.