The tide of an unknown world approaches.
The tide of a familiar world remains.
As if rendered with magic, a sparkling ceiling sings a quiet song.
As if rendered with imagination, an ancient floor ripples with the ebb and flow of time.
I float lazily on time’s tide, drifting in a world as warm as bathwater.
Eyelids flutter as an interloper from last evening pounds the inside of my skull, reminding me of a night in Cabo.
Squinting against a tireless sun, my left hand moves cautiously in search of protective shadows. Eyes shutter tight as sunlight’s brightness marching through extended fingers.
Assembling strength, I murmur to the space inside my head, “Hello darkness.”
Though silent in response, familiar darkness welcomes me with a curtsy. She enjoys my company.
Skin tingles and I shiver.
And as soothing blackness takes my hand I am left to float within a sea of sound.
My pulse pounds dully as inner ears tap to the beat of coursing blood. Perhaps an echo of the sounds heard before birth; enveloped in darkness and curled tight under mom’s beating heart. As if from a distance, I listen to the quickening of the pulse as I drift up and away from the here and now. Darkness gobbles simple thoughts as I am left with the song of my beating heart.
And while the internal echo of a pumping pulse is in itself soothing, my hangover’s accompanying drumbeat begins to take a toll. Memories of a night with Liz at Van Halen’s second anniversary party at the Cabo Wabo Cantina bob like buoys, disrupting the surface with colliding ripples. They float, just out of reach. And as the memory of our 6th or 7th tequila shot asserts itself I cough, the sound smothered by a sparkling ceiling.
“Focus on breathing,” I whisper to the void between my ears.
“Focus on breathing,” echoes darkness.
And shoving away bobbing reflections I find comfort in a familiar world of blackness.
I focus on a swelling sea of sound.
Pulse’s steady bass line is accompanied by the chorus of my labored breathing.
The sounds of raspy breaths temper a hangover’s dull drumbeat.
“Slowly,” I remind myself. “Breathe slowly.”
Face down and adrift, sounds wash through me.
From somewhere far below, an invisible hand applies a thickening pressure against my chest.
And though eyes remain shut I know it’s bright outside my skull. Relentless whiteness paints squeezing eyelids as the sun explodes in a silent song of sparkles.
I drift upon a familiar cycle. The cycle of my life.
And if nothing changes, the cycle of my future.
But thoughts of cycles are interrupted by an addition to the sea of sound.
As I drift toward the tip of the Baja California peninsula a symphony of pulse and labored breathing is joined by the unyielding percussion of colliding seas. Each tidal cycle starts with a murmur – a liquid breeze – respectful and equal in volume to the pulse and the chorus of labored breathing singing inside my head. Like an escalating drumroll, the murmur starts with a gentle rumble.
“A collision, far away,” I tell myself.
“A collision closer than you think,” tuts darkness.
Before the liquid breeze swells to crescendo, blackness adds a solitary dance to a symphony of pulse and breathe.
The dance is interrupted though as the liquid breeze collects and builds in strength. And building toward eruption, each cycle ends with a world shattering rumble.
I feel myself rise as the tides of mighty oceans collide.
I feel myself fall as the tides of mighty oceans separate, the disengagement accompanied by the murmurs of a liquid breeze.
Under cloak of darkness the swelling sea of sound inches me forward. I am jostled and forced to spread arms wide in an effort to stabilize myself.
As inner ears tap to the beat of coursing blood I am drawn to the future by the tide of time.
Skin tingles and I shiver.
And as soothing blackness holds my hand I am left to float within a sea of sound.
“Follow me,” coos blackness. “If you trust me, I will let you see.”
And though I don’t hear her words I know them to be true.
I drift in a world of cycles. I drift in a world of darkness.
From on high I might appear as dead, detritus from a night gone wrong.
In the background simple thoughts return, drifting like flotsam on a sea of sound.
Slivers of a night at the Cantina collect in a pool. The club celebrated its second anniversary with a party as Liz and I joined the locals and head bangers and LA gang-bangers on the tip of the Baja. Tickets to the party cost $6, the price covering entry plus two Coronas. Between Liz and I we tallied a dozen Coronas. Tequila shots with locals rounded out the effort. We swam in a sea of beer and shots and Van Halen lullabies and screaming strangers with neck and face tattoos and arms and faces scarred by the tides of time.
And opening my eyes to a rising sea I’m greeted by a world of shimmering movement. Piercing sparkles mark the ceiling above. Below, thousands of silver fish join together in a symphony of movement.
Adjusting a borrowed mask I cough through my snorkel. Joining a dull pulse, the chorus of labored breathing and the cyclical clash of seas my cough rounds out the concert.
I’m surrounded by fish drifting aimlessly. Appearing unconscious, I am no threat. 100 feet away the tides of the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez collide in a fight for dominance over the edge of the peninsula.
Every 30 seconds the sea is pulsed by the concussions of an unending battle.
And I’m in love.
Then, from within, a spasm of fear disrupts my recovery from a night gone by.
Bubbles squirt from edges of my snorkel’s mouthpiece as I gasp for breath.
And with darkness finding succor below the sea I am left without response.
My heart lurches as I realize I am no longer with Liz.
Breaking the surface I twirl about and spit out my mouthpiece. “Liz! Liz!”
A football field away the captain of our chartered boat waves lazily as sea caps gobble a disjointed scream.
I begin to mumble. “Where is she? Where’d she go? How long have I been drifting?”
As flailing arms grope the water I spin in an awkward circle. My scan of the surface fails to find Liz. Treading water I jam the snorkel into my mouth before dropping below the surface. Spastically, I scour the world below.
“There!” I blurt through my snorkel.
Pointing, I repeat myself, softly this time. “There.”
Directly ahead I see a figure.
Her Caribbean bloodline is reflected in her comfort among the fish. From afar she seems more mermaid than woman as she darts through a world of water. I watch as she leaves the surface, moving hips in time with languid kicks. And reaching the sea floor she gingerly touches a starfish. She lingers, as if floating in space, before turning to extend arms toward the liquid ceiling above. Hundreds of silver fish scurry from her path toward the surface, a wake of bubbles grasping at her feet.
From above, sunlight pours through gaping holes left in the wake of colliding clouds. And when those shafts of light find the sea the world explodes in a shimmering collection of sparkles.
A pattern of steady breathing resumes as I float within a sea of sight.
Sunlight sets Liz’s white bikini aglow as she gracefully approaches the boundary between sea and sky.
And as light tumbles from distant clouds Liz is engulfed in a beam of light. Diffused sunlight spills across her back. Unending legs, bronzed by a week in Mexico, extend to pointed toes. A cloak of brown hair drapes broad shoulders, the ends swaying as she darts forward.
She glides through the water as the rush of an incoming tide lobs me upward and away from Liz.
Kicking against the tide I work hard to gain ground.
Below, glowing fish of orange, yellow and blue light my path.
And as breathing grows more labored the surge of a world unknown fills a gently throbbing head.
After much effort I flank my girlfriend of three years. She slides through the Mexican waters as I work to keep pace.
Long slender arms extend past high hips.
Colliding tides fight for our attention as I reach for her hand.
On the dry side of her snorkel mask eyes crinkle to form an underwater smile.
She tugs at me, my Irish genes struggling to keep pace with her Caribbean blood.
As we approach the tip of the Peninsula the world explodes with the sounds of colliding seas. Withdrawing my hand from Liz’s I point toward the wall of bubbles directly ahead. Pointing to Liz, then me, and then the wall explosions of bubbles I indicate my desire to go where seas collide.
Shaking her head Liz points to the surface.
And breaking the barrier between sea and sky we remove our snorkels.
She beams like a little girl. “It’s so beautiful here.” She looks around. “It’s like another planet!”
I return her smile. I touch her arm. “I know. It’s like a sea of sound under there.”
She interrupts me, “More like a sea of sight.”
“Yeah I guess that too. But listen, keep me in your sights, OK? I mean, I was just floating around hungover. And then when I opened my eyes you weren’t there and I didn’t know where you were so I kinda freaked.”
She gives me a shrug as I continue, “And, like, I don’t mind swimming behind you and enjoying the underwater view (she rolls her eyes) but don’t go leaving me behind.” I squeeze her hand. “OK? I mean, my genes were designed to dig ditches and work like a mule … not swim like a fish from the Caribbean!”
“Well, then keep your eyes and ears open. And try to keep up!” She tilts her face toward tumbling sunlight “Ya know, we can’t just float through life, right? I mean, life’s about, you know, exploring. And seeing what’s on the other side of the door.”
I shrug halfheartedly. “Yeah well, that’s easy for you to say. You’re not hungover.”
“Oh no? Well, I drank as much as you! And I weigh a lot less than you so that excuse isn’t gonna fly.”
Now it’s my turn to roll eyes. Satisfied with her line of reasoning Liz points to the boat. “Listen, I’ll admit it; I’m still groggy from last night. So let’s head back to the boat and find a calmer area to swim, OK? I wanna find somewhere where we can swim with seals.”
“Seals? Are you kidding me? I can’t even keep up with you! And now you’re tell’n me I gotta keep up with seals? Jesus Christ on a crutch.”
Tugging at my hand she pulls me closer. “Oh come on, Bease. Please.”
As she leans in to kiss me our masks bump.
Withdrawing she laughs. “Well?”
“Alright, fine. We’ll swim with stupid seals. But before we go let’s check the tip out, you know, where the seas crash together.”
Turning, I point over my shoulder toward la Ultima piedra. “That sound’s been filling my head this whole time so I wanna see what it’s all about. After that we’ll look for your seals, OK?”
She frowns – not too much but just a bit. “Um, I think I’ll skip the part where we get smashed against the coral by a rip tide. So, no thanks! Besides, the boat captain said the current’s super dangerous at the tip so no thanks.”
“Well, I wanna gonna check it out.”
She shakes her head as I continue, “Listen I’ll just get a little closer and I’ll keep my distance. You can stay here and keep an eye on me or head back to the boat. I’ll be like 10 minutes. No more, OK?”
“I don’t know, Bease. Maybe if you do stay back far enough and stay clear of the reefs, that’s be OK. I mean, if you’re gonna do it, just don’t get too close.” She looks from me to the rock formation and then to the boat.
She smirks before concluding our agreement. “I’ll stay here for a couple of minutes so I can retrieve your body. And if you survive the first minute or two I’ll go get the boat and we’ll meet you back here in five, OK?”
“How ‘bout 10?”
“Five.” She taps her wrist in emphasis.
“OK, fine. I’ll see you in five, good looking.”
She reaches over and cups my chin with her hand. “Be careful.” Inserting her mouthpiece she turns and dives. My fingertips brush her brown calf as she disappears in a cone of bubbles.
And with Liz disappearing into the sea I adjust my mask. Slowly I kick toward colliding seas. Within 25 feet the tug of the tide exerts itself. I work to control my pace as the battling seas pull at me. My heart pounds, the sound overwhelming a chorus of coursing blood and labored breathing. Inching closer I tread water, mindful to keep a safe distance. Each cycle unleashes an explosion of bubbles from a large coral formation about 15 or 20 feet ahead.
Looking back I see Liz slowly making her way toward the boat, apparently satisfied with my distance.
Cautiously, I approach the battle-scarred reef separating the Pacific from the Sea of Cortez. Inching forward I inspect an outcrop of the low slung coral formation. A lone finger reaching from a clenched fist, the slender outcrop clings to the ocean floor. I move closer. Toward the tip of the outcrop, about 10 feet below the surface, I spy a manhole sized opening. From my present angle the opening appears as a blackened door tucked below the sparkling sea.
Through the roiling waters the door pulses, swelling and shrinking with each passing tide.
From the door darkness beckons. “Follow me. If you trust me, I will let you see.”
I drift closer.
Clutching the ocean floor the outcrop of coral appears thick and meaty; sturdy. Given the thickness of the coral the opening isn’t really a hole; it’s more a tunnel – certainly less than five feet in length – horizontally piercing the outcrop. Perhaps originating as a tiny crack thousands of years ago, the cycle of colliding tides have carved a pathway through which seas thrust and parry.
Tentatively, I shift my position along the perimeter of clashing seas to better witness the water’s entry and retreat through the underwater passage.
Steading myself about 10-15 feet in front of the tunnel I settle into a treading position to watch as dozens of apparently fearless fish are first inhaled and then exhaled through the underwater doorway. The cycle continues. Every 30 seconds dozens of fish disappear into the opening, sucked violently from the sea before me. Then, like clockwork, scores of fish belch through the hole in an explosion of bubbles.
The sea swells in celebration of their safe passage.
And upon expulsion from the portal the travelers between two worlds are launched through meaty beams of light. Sand and dust join swirling bubbles as an explosion of sparkles envelops those returning from the other side of the portal.
Treading water I twice have to turn and swim away from the opening as the tug of the portal is so great. Then, finding a safe distance, I resume my observations of fish and water and exploding sparkles as they cycle through the doorway.
Wondering if the same fish are repeating the journey I identify little markers on a number of fish. The bright blue one has a long scar running lengthwise below a black pearl of an eye. That one is missing the end of her right fin. The round orange fish has a long string trailing from a gaping mouth.
And as the cycle repeats I confirm the same fish come and go through the portal, each one an experienced traveler between this world and that; each one comfortable accessing a world unknown.
Keeping a safe distance I watch as my fish friends, Long Scar, Missing Fin and String Mouth disappear and reappear, each one greeted by a swelling sea.
Between cycles the underwater world grows quiet.
And between cycles the drumbeat of a pounding heart shunts fear aside.
Skin tingles and I shiver.
I drift closer to the opening.
After each expulsion the fish take their time to align themselves with the opening, each traveler working hard to face the portal head on.
Patiently I wait.
With a great surge, I am yanked to within ten feet of the portal. This time, however, I do not turn and swim to safety. I drift, waiting for my fish friends to return. The current cycle ends with an explosion of bubbles and tumbling fish and sparkling sand.
Quickly, efficiently, the expelled fish gain their bearings and align themselves with the portal.
And so do I.
Long Scar appears next to me. She gives me a wink and wriggles before darting toward the opening.
With heart racing and chest pounding I dive, timing my descent to enter the portal along with the fish.
Momentarily I am engulfed by fear as I realize there’s no turning back. What if I get stuck?
“Oh my God!” I scream to darkness as she opens arms wide, ready to embrace me.
“Let go!” she screams.
Eyes bulge and arms flail as I soar forward with an explosive rush. Frantically I kick and grasp at bubbles in an effort to stay aligned with the portal.
A freight train of sound explodes above me. My mask jams hard against my face, pressing against a pointed nose. As if by the hand of God, I am yanked forward into a world of screaming bubbles and rushing water. Reflexively, I cover my head as I tumble head first through blackness. A world of whiteness and a crushing weight slam me from behind.
And it’s over.
Just like that.
The tides of time take pause as I am engulfed in silence. And darkness.
I am surrounded by darkness.
Then an all-encompassing rushing sound, like air being sucked from a room.
Gasping for air I grope toward the surface. And floating upward I am enveloped in the grip of unfamiliar water. The water’s no longer bathtub warm. It’s cold.
Skin tingles and I shiver.
I kick upward until my snorkel pierces the surface. The sound of labored breathing and my own strumming pulse fill the inside of my mask. From above I am serenades by echoes of my raspy breathes.
The sea of sight is left behind as I float upon a sea of darkness. I blink, confirming eyes are open.
And the sea of sound is left behind as I float upon a sea of quietude.
All is still.
And no hangover. There’s no pounding between my ears.
“What’s going on here?” I mutter into darkness. Without words, she kisses my ear.
Then, a sound.
A drip, like rain plopping from leaking gutters, joins me in darkness. The peaceful sound of dripping water draws me forward.
Cautiously, I kick.
Then, arms splayed I let myself go limp as the tide of an undiscovered world pours through me.
I float lazily on the patient tide of time.
I wait for the tidal crash of competing oceans to join the chorus of my pulse and breathing but no. In this place there’s no violent collisions, no cyclical explosions. The water itself is different. It’s peaceful; not roiling. And it’s not salty. It’s more like lake water; clear and cold.
With eyes adjusting to darkness I cast about for my companions, Long Scar, Missing Fin or String Mouth. Along with the swelling seas they’re gone as well.
I mumble through my snorkel, the words echoing above my head, “This is not the Sea of Cortez.” I look about. “And this is definitely not the Pacific.”
Looking up through the water’s surface, I spy the ceiling of what must be an underwater cave. Nudging upward my head bangs against rock.
My heart pounds in confusion. “Stay calm,” I whisper through my snorkel.
“Stay calm,” darkness echoes back.
Peering below a smooth surface I take a measure of this place. Shadows join darkness in a playful dance at the perimeter of adjusting sight.
And turning to my rear I see meaty shafts of light tumbling from holes in the ceiling above. Like tubes of liquid sunshine the light pierces the water to illuminate a smooth floor of silt and sand. Dust specs drift lazily within the probing sunlight.
Cautiously, I make my way forward, kicking toward the nearest shaft of light.
Then, directly ahead, I see a figure.
“There!” I blurt through my snorkel.
“There!” agrees darkness.
Through a distant shaft of light passes a tiny figure.
“A girl,” I whisper.
“A girl,” nods darkness. “A girl.”
As fear recedes like an outgoing tide I move toward her.
From afar she seems more mermaid than girl as she darts through a world of water. I watch as she leaves the surface, moving her hips in time with languid kicks. And reaching the water’s floor she gingerly touches a blackened stone shaped like a miniature manhole cover. She lingers, as if floating in space, before turning to extend arms toward the liquid ceiling above. Specs of dust scurry from her path toward the surface, a wake of bubbles grasping at her feet.
“A cave,” I tell myself.
“A cenote,” corrects darkness.
Somehow this is familiar. “I’m in Mexico. But, how?”
“I’m in Mexico. But, when?” corrects darkness.
And with darkness whispering in my ear the girl disappears into a shadow.
A moment later she reappears. Slipping from shadow the girl is engulfed in a meaty beam of light. Diffused sunlight spills across her back. Slender legs, bronzed by time in Mexico extend to pointed toes. A cloak of brown hair drapes polished shoulders, the ends swaying as she darts forward.
She is graceful and beautiful and I wonder if I am somehow witness to a perfect moment. Specs of dust reflect pouring sun light to mark her path.
Behind me, darkness beams with pride.
Effortlessly the girl glides through the water.
And chest pounding I kick in pursuit of the child.
Save for the girl’s graceful strokes the world is still.
Without thinking I yell through my mouthpiece, “Gee!”
“Gee!” repeats darkness.
Somehow I know her name is Gee. I just know it.
In response to my call the little girl stops and spins.
Initially, she turns her face upward, toward reaching sunlight. Shimmering bubbles and dust specs hold her aloft. Then, as if in afterthought, she turns to face me. As if anticipating my presence she gives me a familiar wave. Through her mask I see cheeks rise under big brown eyes. She’s smiling; no beaming at the glory of a perfect moment of unbridled adventure. Momentarily she floats, suspended in time. Coyly, she positions an index finger vertically before her mouth as if to remind me of a shared secret. Then, quickly, she turns. She points ahead before kicking forward, leaving me in a wake of shimmering dust specs and bubbles.
Sunlight joins her in departure. Shadows engulf the cave and I am returned to darkness. I shiver in icy water.
And though I’m pounding through my second year of graduate school and presently on vacation with my girlfriend in Cabo and dealing with a hangover borne of a Van Halen anniversary party somehow I know it’s true; that little girl is my daughter.
Shafts of light soon return to illuminate a world of dancing dust specs. They dance in the wake of my daughter’s departure.
Heart pounding, I rush forward in pursuit of my daughter.
And as I plunge into my daughter’s wake I am sucked into a world of screaming bubbles and rushing water.
“No!” I scream to darkness.
A freight train of sound explodes above me. My mask jams hard against my face, pressing against a pointed nose. And as if the hand of God has yanked me forward I am sucked into a world of screaming bubbles and rushing water. Once again I cover the top of my head as I am sucked from the cenote through a manhole size opening. A wall of bright light and a crushing weight slam me from behind as I tumble head first through the portal.
My arm scrapes coral as I am propelled forward.
Skin tingles and I shiver.
For a moment I am engulfed in silence.
Gasping for breath I grope toward the surface. And as darkness gives way to light I spy a fish with a long scar below a black pearl of an eye floating along my flank. She gives me a wink before dipping her head and rushing away toward open ocean.
And as Long Scar disappears I find my mask has been cracked. The apparatus dangles helplessly around my neck.
A coughing spasm consumes me as I pierce the water’s surface.
And finding the upper bounds of this familiar place I gasp for air. Treading water I spin and turn to gain my bearings. My head throbs with a reminder a hangover.
My left arm burns. And raising my hand above the surface I see I’m bleeding, my forearm scraped raw by passage through the portal.
Around me the sea stains red. Looking to my rear I spy the boat, motoring slowly toward me and now less than a hundred feet way. From the boat, Liz and the owner wave. Dramatically, the owner taps his wristwatch. With swinging arms Liz beckons me forward.
And as regular breathing returns, images from the future bob like buoys, disrupting the surface with colliding ripples.
“It can’t be,” I murmur.
And with darkness retired for the day my comment is left without response.
But it is.
“I saw her.”
Shaking my head I speak in singsong. “A daughter. I’m gonna have a daughter. And she’s brave. And beautiful. And swims like her mother…” I stammer before continuing, “And Gee; her name is Gee!”
Tilting my face upward I howl toward the sun. With my uninjured arm I pound the sea in delight.
And 10 feet below treading feet dozens of fish wait patiently to slip through a portal to witness an undiscovered ocean.
Standing with hands on hips Liz watches me as I kick toward the boat. Tilting her head to the left she pulls at wet hair. I give her a wave to let her know I’m OK.
As I make my way forward I know.
In the undiscovered ocean of the future Gee will join us.
She waiting to be born.
I saw her.
She waved to me from a place far away.
With all my heart I know Liz and I are going to marry and have a baby; a baby named Gee.
And I know it’s a secret; Gee asked me be quiet about what I witnessed. And that’s what I’ll do. I’ll keep it a secret. And someday, far in the future when Gee is grown up, I’ll tell Liz in my own way what happened today on the other side of the portal.
Heart pounding I rush toward the boat.
Heart pounding I rush toward the undiscovered ocean.
When I return home I’m buying a ring.
I’m going to ask Liz to marry me.