A Betrothal in Blue
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I use ocean and sea to mean the same thing. They aren’t, but this is how the world is. The only difference, after all, between a sea and an ocean is perspective. They’ll say the difference is which is enclosed by water and which by land, but that comes from the view of one on the land. A fish sees its whole world enclosed by land, after all, and would call an island an island only because it can swim about its berth. Does this mean we are all islands? Who knows. But islands and seas and oceans alike, this is not what we are here for.

Here I am at the sea. There are tidepools, glittering like molten craters under the searing sun. At my step, tiny darting things cast shadows from under cast-off shells grooved and grainy with sand, and in the surf where ribbons of green and yellow flutter like string-curtains I see shark pups roll belly-up with eyes glazed with jade, startled and thinking themselves vulnerable, pretending to die to my shadow on their bright bodies. Better thought rotten and gone than fresh and eaten. When I step away, they flip back over and continue their small hunt for tiny things, unaware of watchful giants beyond their eyes’ reach. I rise the crest of a sand-dune that houses a city of hermit crabs dwarfed by my foot. The crash of waves on the legs of docks and the drooling of bullkelp from the smallest pebbles is overpowering, and even while I remain dry on my walk to the dive site I am plunging headfirst into the sea’s embrace, allowing her to overwhelm and pull me down into fathomless depths, wet and blind to the horror of a bleaching sun. I walk the shore with a head in the sea that extends beyond the sea, and I do not trip over the roots of bullkelp because the sea takes my hand, guides my body. From the lava-rocks of the shore so cold I weave into the surf, past the ribbon-forest of emeralds and sapphires of seagrass to the wastes thigh-deep, to where the sand torn free from the ground into the water scrubs raw my ankles and where the strongest roots of anchored bullkelp live their whole lives purple with tension. The surf is not white here, just cold dark waves and the wind of the Pacific.

Hello, I say to the sea, but she does not respond because why would she? I may be a priest to her order, but she sees me no more than the crabs. I walk deeper in the surf, knowing of the undertow and not caring because I am prepared and know what to look for, and in my hand paddling my walking body through the chest-vice water there is the pinch of a tiny carcinized warrior, a furious little thing, grey and insignificant and it is not afraid but giving its all because it knows nothing but believes that killing me will lead to prosperity. I detach it from my finger, now numb and creased with the ideals people fight their whole lives to gain, and set it free under a large, wide rock, and then I walk deeper into the water until I can scarcely touch the bottom on my tip-toes and slip my fins from my back and my snorkel-mask from the lead-heavied belt on my waist.

My skin is rubber in the freezing waves, and I squeeze my sand-curled toes into my fins and fit the mouthpiece against my teeth and bite down so I can breathe like a dolphin at the surface. And without taking a breath I plunge myself like a calving glacier beneath the winter-dark of sea and void. I open my eyes and do not raise my head so aching from the shock of freeze, and in my ears are a thousand white-noise clicking of crab mandibles and giant plankton-mouths and rocks too small to see crashing into one another inches from my ears with the force of the tide. I hear all this, orient so my back faces a sky so black it looks like it is down, and take care not to stir the sand-silt too much before taking a deep breath through the straw of my snorkel before diving down into the depths unknown, trusting in the majesty of the sea to bring me home when my lungs fail and bubbles threaten to coalesce like dancers in my arteries and my ears have popped so I no longer know the way.

The blackness takes hold, and the sea is blue-black all around, and the ocean floor does not recede with careful dignity but rather has rudely dropped away into the abyss at the moment of my arrival, and instead of scuttling off like so many crabs beneath a rock I point myself from horizontal stagnation into the verticality of a falling arrow, and I kick hard under and descend an underwater cliff wall of grey sea lichen and dark algae until I can see no more, and then I keep kicking as a roaring blackness swallows me whole.

On shore, washed-up fish flop back into the water, and as the tide takes its toll on the rocks I remember when the moon was far and the tide was low and I was there, stepping softly so as not to disturb the squirting geoducks and razor clams in the sand that squinted with trepidation at the baleful sun, but getting sand and clam-spittle splashed on my legs anyway because to the razor glams and thick-necked geoducks I am a giant and no matter how gentle I am my footsteps will always make the ground tremble for someone. Maybe that’s why I love the sea. Here in the depths, there are giants whose calls of love and joy at seeing one so small and curious as I would turn me to rubber by vibration alone, and there are equally those infinitesimally smaller than I who would die by the movement of my fins, and I take no care for them than the whales do for me.

Once, I was in the same sea but in a place where the water was warm. She was not kind to those islands, and the islands fought back against the ocean’s erosion by growing and crawling sluggishly across the plates of the world. There, I dove from a cliff submerged save for the very top where the waves brushed the sand off our legs from the wet-dry walk to the edge where the water starts and the floor plummets down an unfathomable depth before rising again in great lazy waves of rock and sand holding rolling forests of coral. The bone-white of the bleached dead and the half-alive splendor of the living were visible even from above the water. But the sea called to me, and this was what I was meant to do. There, I dove down with my snorkel and two lungs full of breath and played with the fish like I was a seal, rolling upside-down and sideways and remembering that it took ten seconds to get to the bottom and that I could hold my breath for ninety when the sea was kind and sixty when she wanted me to leave.

There, in the graveyard of the living and the newly dead, I found something glittering. Something like round quartz, huge in the wavering light from the surface. A ring, silt-stained but quickly washed by the undercurrent, like she was apologizing for the state in which I found her gift. A ring of silvery metal in my hand, not a fleck of gold or speck of rust or mar of turquoise oxidase, and nestled in tendrils of vining metal the biggest diamond I had ever seen, blue and white in the sun below the waves. My lungs burned for oxygen, but I knew that I could survive a little longer. It was worth staying down. I twisted it in my stiff fingers, tried it on. It didn’t fit, and, I realized, it wasn’t the right type. Human habits aren’t known well to the sea, I think. She didn’t know my gender, either. Which is fine, because I don’t know hers and my own gender took years to find for myself, and I’ve lived in this body and the sea hasn’t. So what if she took a few tries to get it right. She was polite about it and did her best to learn something alien to her despite that I never asked. She gave me something beautiful each time, and each time I treasured it.

She’s so gentle. The sea has only felt me in delicate touches, through the fabric of my wetsuit and in my lungs a few times when she sucked me down by a wave to feel me more fully, back when she was rough, and I almost drowned. I forgive missteps. I do not chide the sea for something she did not know. She is kind, loving, working towards understanding. Not adoring, but cherishing, sweet and knowing. She doesn’t bend for me, but when I reach her height she lifts me ever higher. She gives and she supports; she is buoyant when I need strength and she brings me below when she wants to show me the stars she grows in her depths. She is everything to me. There, in the coral, the misfit ring and its diamond were beautiful, even through the fog of my goggles. But it wasn't for me, so I put it on a horn of orange-red things that had survived the coral bleaching so far, teeming in something like cartilage, and adjusted it until in the distant sunlight they had an adorning crown atop that built city the teeming creatures call home and we call coral. And then I rose, broke through the waves, and breathed deep.

I left without the ring, but I was not disappointed in the misstep. I loved her, and she was so sweet. So kind. Punishment does not work in relationships; there is a balance, a back-and-forth tide in finding things that work and other things that don’t. It’s a dance, and when one partner steps left when you expect them to step right you don’t stop dancing, you adjust and keep going in this new orientation. The next year, in the same beach, I dove again and that time found a ring of silver with a groove cut in chevrons like vine leaves with a thinner, smaller ring around the middle. I wear it to this day.

Now, where the ocean is cold and the sky is grey, I drift deep off the side of the seamount, pushing into the dark. The sea is so quiet, but incredibly loud all at once, deafening in a way wholly expected but never perceived until you’re actually there. It’s filled with crackling like scratched vinyl, the mouths of a thousand unseen creatures in the water and on the filmy whitish-algae of the granite seamount mouthing at the detritus of the world. Above me — above becomes less of a feeling, in the deep, and more of a consciousness of radiance, that up is not defined by gravity but by where light streams down from — where the sunbeams dance on the dunes of waves, I can still barely see the overhanging ledge of the seamount frosted with marine snow, dripping globs of greyish white down, streaming broken parts of themselves like paint dropped into water, in the glacial process of feeding the small mouthing things of the deep as more piles onto the ledge above. How great a significance that ledge must hold for the world down here. Maybe an avalanche will happen someday, feeding millions for a century. Or maybe some careless swimmer will knock some snow the wrong way, back towards shore, starving those same millions for generations. All by the movement of some unknowing foot.

On that granite wall slimy beneath my diving gloves I push myself down like I am climbing. The soreness of my ankles is unfathomable, but I kick relentlessly against the tugging weight of the absent sky. My lungs do not burn. They are moray eels, bladderfish, twin thrashing octopi in my chest. They hunger, but they do not know what for. I do not let them know where I am going. The sea loves me, and I love her back. I plunge headfirst twenty, thirty, forty meters down on the oxygen of my lungs and the steadfast joy of my mind, and I do not think I will come back up.

The sea and I are married, I think. Her ring is a welcome manacle on my thumb. And now that I am submerged, I shall never leave.

The zee / the zee / my love unseen / a zailor's heart / is but the zee— / and all her waters? / all are me

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