The following is a part of a 30-day writing challenge Escapril started by author Savannah Brown.
Started January 20th, 2022 (unfinished version)
Walking across the frozen sand I gazed ahead into the vast darkness that lay ahead of me. Beyond the beach, I could hear the frozen water sloshing against the piles of snow that had collected on the shoreline. It felt like staring into a void, I could hardly make out where the lake and sky met. Here they homogenized, uniting to form a seemingly unending blackness before me.
I was on my way home from a long shift at work and for some reason felt compelled toward the beach. It was a frigid January night in Chicago, but this did not prevent me from being pulled toward that darkened horizon. I stood at the edge of the shoreline where the sand and snow met and took a deep breath of frozen air. Since winter had begun I had abandoned this beach which only a few short months ago had been a safe haven for me, a place to escape to.
During the summer, I would walk along the coast from beach to beach and let my racing thoughts drift in and out of my head. Worry about if I was going to get a job after my college graduation, worry about my relationship, worry about my family, worry about my future, and recovering from the previous year of isolation and fear.
My beach walks had become an unofficial self-care ritual of sorts. Anytime I felt overwhelmed or depressed I went and walked by the water and tried to focus only on the task at hand: one foot in front of the other. This was my attempt at healing while I felt like my depression had a vice grip on my mind. Maybe I had returned to the beach this night in January because I felt a new sort of healing was needed. In the fall of 2021, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and depression and decided to get help. I had already made a lot of progress through therapy that year but felt that there was some missing piece that could help stabilize me. Getting a new job with a stable livable income also helped to improve my mental health as I moved away from the fear of living paycheck to paycheck and thinking “Maybe this month I won’t make enough tips to pay rent”. By November of 2021, I felt like I was returning to a version of myself I had not seen since high school. I was excited about the future, and life was worth living again. My dreams and goals did not seem like unreachable feats, but tangible experiences that I looked forward to working towards
But this had all come at a cost. Overwhelmed, burnt out, and fearing I would never get better, in June of 2021 I ended a 3-year long relationship with someone I love because I saw how much pain I was causing them. Thousands of miles away and forbidden from traveling to see me in the USA when I was at my lowest point, it felt like a helpless situation. I thought I could spare us more heartache. I don’t know what the right answer was, but I made the hard choices I needed to make in the hopes of saving myself from my own self-destruction.
While breathing in the icy air on the shoreline I am reminded of a particularly bad day I had that previous summer:
I was laying on my back looking up at the clouds, feet pulled up to my butt and buried in the sand as I listened to waves. My mind was threatening to bury me in thoughts and worries so, I didn’t notice her walking up behind me until the shuffling sand gave her away.
“Hi, would you mind watching my stuff while I go for a swim?” I sat up and turned in her direction. She had set her black backpack on the sand just a few feet away from where I had spread out my blanket. Close enough where I could keep a watchful eye but not too close as to break the required 6-foot distance we were all expected to abide.
“Yea no problem.” I nodded. She thanked me and headed off toward the horizon pausing for a moment where the water and sand met. Fully clothed in patterned 70s-style pants and a tank top, she waded into the lake, seemingly without a care in the world. The farther out she went the deeper she sank until I could make out only a bobbing head floating above the surface. A sort of tranquility washed over me as I watched her float atop the water surrendering her body to the calm movement of the waves. To feel the weight of the day pull away from you and find a moment of peace.
The day was coming to an end sun setting behind the apartment buildings, casting orange and pink hues across the sky. By the time she had re-emerged onto the shore, the last remaining streaks of the sunset were disappearing along the horizon.
“Thank you” she sighed as she shuffled over to her bag, sopping wet as she squeezed her hair. “I needed that.”
“Bad day?” I asked as she was wringing out her shirt. I noticed she had no towel, just the clothes on her back.
“Something like that. I don’t know, I just like to come here and just exist, ya know?”
I nodded. What a strange thing that she and I were at the same moment likely feeling the same thing, seeking the healing magic of the water to restore our inner peace. I have since returned to that place time and again, wading into the shallows with nothing but the clothes on my back. It is a short respite from the stress of the day, the weightless hug of the water supporting you as you stare up at the clouds.
“Well, I hope your day gets better,” I told her as she grabbed her shoes and hoisted her bag back onto her shoulders, the weight returning.
“Yours too” she smiled as she began her slow shuffle away from the shore and back to the busy sidewalks and streets of the world beyond the water.