I remember the first time I smelled the ocean. That might seem like an odd way to remember to anyone who’s never been, but, the truth is, you always smell it first. It’s a cloying scent that fills your nostrils and coats the back of your throat. The salt in the air is so heavy it’s all you can smell- a deep, briny, musk.
I was so excited to finally be coming to the end of the long trip- twelve hours in a car with three other women. I’d never seen the ocean before. I was practically bouncing in my seat I was so excited. Then the smell hit me.
My first reaction was, “Ugh! What is that?!” My friend, Cecily, laughed at me.
“That’s the ocean, silly,” she said. “What you’re smelling is the salt water. Not so great, huh?”
“Not so bad,” I hedged, unwilling to malign the very thing I had ridden twelve hours to enjoy. “So, where is it?” I was impatient now, looking out the windows, squinting in the semi-dark of twilight.
“The ocean!” Cecily gave me a look that shone with pity. I felt myself deflate, just a bit.
“We’re still a few miles away, Mo,” she said.
I probably pouted at that point, slumping down in my seat with my feet propped on the dashboard. My stomach kept twisting into more and more complicated knots. I’d been waiting for years to see the ocean, building it up in my head to be this great, majestic beast. What if it wasn’t? What if it was just a copious amount of water? I worried at my lower lip, chewing off dead skin and gnawing the inside of it raw. I wasn’t looking out the window anymore, just staring at my feet, fretting. That’s probably why Cecily jabbed me in the ribs with her finger to get my attention.
I looked out my window, following her pointing digit with my eyes, and saw the ocean. The sun had set, leaving only moonlight and streetlamps to light the waves that slapped against the shoreline in an inky spill. That first look at the ocean was like watching liquid night creep towards me and then run away. It was majestic, it was surreal, and that night I dreamed of swimming.