When I graduated from college, I moved back home. I was lost and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I had actually spent time actively not pursuing any job offers. For the first time in my life I was not on a determined track and that scared me profoundly. I soon got a job as a substitute teacher, rented an apartment where a murder had taken place the month before, and I began to pay bills. I met a guy at the school I was teaching at and we soon began dating. Chad seemed like everything I ever wanted. He was well-educated, played the guitar, and wore khakis (yes, khakis-we all have our things). His father was a doctor and he played golf. One of the most important things that drew me to him, besides the khakis, was that he resembled my grandfather. My grandfather was one of the best people I knew. He entered every conversation as a chance to learn. He traveled all over the world and did headstands in his office between meetings. He loved my grandmother fiercely. I thought between the resemblance and the khakis I had definitely found my perfect match.
A year later, I was still in my apartment, still dating Chad, and had become a full time teacher. I could see the rest of my life ahead of me. Chad and I would marry, we would both continue to teach, save up and buy a house, have some kids and I would spend the rest of my life living down the street from my family. This was even scarier for me. I was not ready for this life. I felt like my soul had just simply shriveled up and died. I was not ready to settle for anything. I had not yet lived all of the other possibilities of life and every part of me screamed to get out.
So I did. I quit my job (at the end of the school year-I am not a monster), packed up my belongings, broke up with Chad and moved to New York City. I joined a year long acting conservatory and slowly I began to revive. I discovered myself in all of the best ways. I made friends who quickly became family and I found an inner strength I never knew existed.
Towards the end of the conservatory program we celebrated together at a friend’s house in Far Rockaway. Her house was on the beach and we all went out to put our feet in the sand. It was beginning to get dark and everyone else went inside. I stayed. I breathed in the beautiful salt water air. I was immediately transported home. Growing up near the ocean, every time I went outside there was the smell of salt water. It permeated every molecule of air and it was quintessentially all of me. That smell spoke to me of history and belonging. It was walking around my neighborhood after the rain. It was school field trips and life’s firsts. It was the generations that lived and breathed this same salt air before me. It was my grandfather who taught me so much about everything and who made the world a better place every day of his life. This smell enveloped me and I felt for the first time completely and truly whole. Without a second thought I ran directly into the ocean fully clothed. It was cold but I felt as if I was feeding a part of me that I had ignored for too long. I had tried to run away from home and from who I was only to be brought back with the smell of the salt water.
I stayed in the water until my lips were blue and my teeth were chattering. I slowly and regretfully walked out of the ocean and walked back to my friend’s house. My friend lent me some items while my clothes dried and no one questioned why I went swimming. It was part of my journey and they accepted that.
To this day, whenever the smell of salt water is in the air I am reminded of home but not only that. I am also reminded of who I am in the deepest parts of my being and I breathe.