At Myrtle Beach, colorful resorts and hotels line the shore like pastel-colored candy tucked neatly in Easter baskets; neon signs light up the balmy night sky, crashing brilliantly against night’s endless deep-violet. The salty perfume of the ocean never changes over the years – it is the signature scent of summer at the beach. I have also tasted the sun. The omnipotent rays seep through closed lips and jerk the tongue to life with a slight tang of lemon pie; a perfect balance of sweet and sour. That’s what I like to imagine the sun tastes like. Nostalgia rises from this familiar earth, covering me in a transparent layer, and my senses are lovesick guides that take me back and try to help me wed my mortal body with the eternal bodies of the universe. My senses have hopelessly courted these beautiful, infinite bodies for years with no avail. Or so I think.
For the one week that we were at Myrtle, as my family lazily rose to tend to their individual morning rituals, I was always dressed and ready an hour before them. I usually headed out the door the same time my brother groggily headed for the bathroom. “The beach isn’t going anywhere,” my father said between yawns. “But the sun is!” I retorted, trying to rub sunblock over that one spot on my back I could never reach. I was armed with my enormous, sand-filled beach bag containing only my towel, iPhone, snacks, and a couple of frozen water bottles to keep my baking body hydrated.
I would only return to the hotel room for a bite of lunch and then it was back to the beach for tanning round two until sunset. No matter how much sunblock I would rub onto my skin every couple of hours, sunburn was inevitable after a whole day of sunbathing. It felt good to stick my hands inside the hotel ice bucket and place them on my feverish skin, burning hot from the sun’s rays captured inside my flesh. I pictured a molten, bright yellow liquid mixing with my blood and lighting up my veins like electroluminescent wire. When I turned off all the lights later that night, I was almost expecting my skin to radiate an eerie golden glow. I was half-disappointed when I didn’t glimmer like some golden god and wondered what it would feel like to carry that immense power inside me and momentarily smolder like the sun.
By morning, my flesh cooled down and was itching for another round of sun-fever. In the hotel hallway, I waited impatiently for the sluggish elevator with its load of people sporting vibrant bathing suits. The children seemed to vibrate with anticipation, plastic shovels and buckets in hand, as if going off to dig at a secret excavation site. Once the elevator doors opened with a cheery ding, everyone poured out, relieved that the uncomfortable ride was over. I stepped into the scintillating sunlight and the faint taste of lemon pie coated my tongue. The ocean’s eau de parfum filled my nostrils, the salty taste blending with the sweet and sour.
After a few hours of baking under the sun, I decided to cool off in the water. I pinned down my towel to the shifting, sinking sand as best I could with my bag and flip flops and hopped over to the water’s elusive edge, burning my bare feet on the sand. My ears were tuned to the sound of the waves – the sound of inconceivable, immortal might. The kind of sound that assured me I was fully alive and conscious and beholding a reality that left me reeling. It is the kind of sound that cannot be forgotten – archived in the primary auditory cortex and replayed clearly even when far away from the beach and sitting in the living room. It is the soundtrack to a day at the beach, where the water roars and crashes against the shore like the frothing mouth of a massive blue beast, coughing up the remnants of its shellfish lunch. It was exhilarating and overwhelming all at the same time and I took caution not to go too far, aware of its wild power. The night soundtrack, however, is much different; at night the water is calmer – purring and lapping along the shoreline like the smooth, salivating tongue of a massive black beast, ready to swallow me whole for dinner. It is soothing and alarming all at the same time – more dangerous. A cool invitation. The moon hangs overhead like a silvery ball ready to splash back into the water.
Now with the sun sizzling like an enormous egg yolk in the saucepan sky, I faced the ocean, only a few steps separating me from that watery hammock. The water was deliciously warm as I waded in. I felt like I had been given a large dose of anesthesia as every muscle in my body went limp. I was a puppet on watery strings. I was in the mouth of the blue beast, feeling small and helpless, trying to stay afloat and exist inside something that was so much greater than me. Is that why we are so attracted to the ocean? Do we love the danger and unpredictability? Does the idea that we could drown at any moment thrill us? Or is it a much deeper, older desire? I want to lay my ear upon the beast’s sand-encrusted heart and hear the rumblings of her ancient secrets.
I want to become lost in something that knows no time. Maybe we want to run away from time and tumble into something timeless. Or, are we just merely going back to where we once came from? There is a scientific theory that millions of years ago, the common ancestors of human beings adapted to ocean life. Do our origins trace back to the ocean? There is no denying that we share certain qualities with it. We carry the same salt in our bodies that the ocean carries; most of our bodily fluids, such as tears, blood, and sweat, contain salt. While this may all be purely coincidental, there is again no denying that we are drawn to the ocean and its ever-moving, salt-soaked mysteries.
I was about eight years old when my family vacationed at Myrtle for the first time. I spent the entire first day in the ocean, refusing to come out even for dinner. Back then, I wasn’t so interested in the tanning part – I only wanted to play in the water and find seashells. When my parents finally coaxed me out with the promise of pizza, my skin was so wrinkled that I shrieked with laughter and kept yelling that I was an old lady. My hunger finally caught up with me and I decided I was too starved to shower, so my mother helped me into my clothes and we drove over to the restaurant. Pretty soon the salt that I had marinated in all day started itching and stinging my skin. I started nagging my mother that I wanted to go back to our hotel to shower and wash the salty residue off me.
Back then, I could joke about being old and not be bothered by it, as if old age was a myth and something that couldn’t possibly happen to me. Back then, the ocean’s ageless salts seeped into my young skin, mingling with my own, and all I wanted to do was wash it off, unaware of what it meant to carry a small part of an eternal force in my flesh like fairy dust. Unaware that I already carried something similar inside my body since the day I was born – within the ever-moving blood flowing in my veins like ocean currents. But, unlike the ocean, I wasn’t an eternal being. The ocean is both young and old and I guess that’s the best way to describe something that is ageless. Even if it one day dries up and ceases to exist, it will still outlive me by several million years and that’s close enough to eternity for me. Now that I am older, all I want is to preserve a bit of the sun and the ocean within my expiring vessel and feel their timeless presence surging. Weinevitablesh and d what it would feel like to momentarily burn like the sun - inevitable I want to become one with these powerful, permanent bodies of the planet. But aren’t we already a part of this universe? Why is it that we feel like momentary visitors? Why do we rely on our senses and memories to take us back and help us belong to something we may already be a part of?
My family and I drove to a campsite on our last evening at Myrtle and as soon as the familiar smoky scent of firewood hit my nostrils, it triggered the vivid memory of a September night when I was around ten and went camping with my cousins. I had never seen so many stars in a single night sky before. The smell of firewood always makes me think of stars. It brings rushing back exactly what I felt in that moment on that September night fifteen years ago, when I looked up at the night sky pierced with those winking little lights, thinking that God himself had taken a giant silver needle to the sky and punctured countless holes into it for the light of heaven to peek through. I thought of the full moon as his thimble while he meticulously worked with that needle.
I remember wishing I could rise up into the air like the smoke from the dying flames and mingle with the ageless stars. But maybe I already have, because according to another well-known scientific theory, human beings carry within them the same elements that make up stars; the carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen atoms in our bodies were created in previous star generations around 4.5 million years ago. If this theory holds some truth, then mingling with stars wouldn’t seem like such an impossible task. I’d like to have faith in these theories; they help convince me that I am part of something bigger. The South Carolina night sky was also punctured generously with stars and I gazed up at them, placing a hand on my midsection and thinking how amazing indeed that I could be carrying inside me the same elements that make up those twinkling lights millions of miles away. Somehow, they didn’t feel so far and out of reach.
On our final day of vacation, we checked out of our hotel and spent the morning on the beach before heading home. “Take some pictures! You don’t want to forget these moments!” my mother commanded from behind her half-eaten watermelon crescent, handing me her camera with sticky fingers. I want to always remember her like this – sitting carelessly on the beach, laughing and eating a watermelon, her bare legs half-buried in the hot sand of the beach as if she is part of it. I imagine she is a mermaid, visiting the shore for the first time. But she will decide to stay on land forever, loving the feel of the earth’s solidity and the warm, dry sand on her body. Maybe that’s what our ancestors did millions of years ago – they visited the shore one day and decided to stay permanently. But that love for the ocean has never really gone away. It is deep within us and has soaked our memories, beckoning us to go back – if only for a little while – and allow our aging salts to mix with the ocean’s ageless salts. “I won’t forget,” I murmured to no one in particular and still half-heartedly snapped a few pictures to keep my giggling mermaid-mother happy.
But what can I resort to when old age wears out my mind and I do forget? It’s bound to happen, even if the blind arrogance and temporary invincibility of youth convince me otherwise. Can I then find temporary refuge in my muddled memories? Will I eventually come to terms with old age and death when my senses fail me and I no longer have my memories to escape into for a little while? When I can no longer remember those comforting theories? After all, our memories die with us. Is that when I can finally tumble into something timeless? In death, I will be buried in the ground where my flesh and bones will become one with the earth. My salts and stardust will mingle with the soil. In death, I will go back to the familiar earth.
Mahdis Marzooghian is the managing editor of Five on the Fifth literary magazine. She recently graduated from Towson University with a Master’s Degree in Professional Writing. She earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree in English (Writing), Journalism and French from Towson University, as well. She hopes to go on for a PhD in writing someday. Mahdis currently works as a PRWeb editor at Cision. She had a short essay published in the series anthology, “Miso for Life: A Melting Pot of Thoughts” and more recently, a short prose piece published in the literary magazine, “Ambiguity”. As an undergrad, Mahdis had two poems published in Mary Baldwin College’s literary magazine, “Outrageous Fortune” as well as an article in the online literary magazine, “20 Something”. She hopes to get a novel published in the near future. Mahdis is also fluent in Farsi and French. She loves to travel.