Within the Sound, along the shore, he felt cradled. He went there first – before unloading the truck, before unlocking the house – and he went there last – after the end of a romance, after the death of a friend. In the Sound he had his craved-for quiet. The boats didn’t bother him, the rustling of the trees was not disruptive. The rain rocked him gently; it was not very heavy here. He sat on the shore in rubber boots and a well-worn canvas coat, his hood stiff against the wind. In his pockets he clenched his fists slightly – the only sign that not all of him was calm. He told himself it was to keep his fingers warm, alternating his thumb from the inside to the outside of his hand.

Water lapped gently upon the shore stones – a hypnotic, undulating rhythm, enough to quell the cries of his unborn babies. Dead roots stood between the sea and the forest, bleached by the sand and sun. On dry days a crystalline coating of powdered salt covered the smooth wood, catching bits of a bright gray sky in the East. He remembered licking a piece of driftwood once, tasting of salty seaweed, then spitting out a bit of gritty sand. That was in the summer, when she was still here and he was hungry for more of life and more of what she could never give.

She had stayed the longest, lasting through the moody idiosyncrasies, the unapproachable silence of days, weeks with nothing said. An uneasy but accustomed averting of the eyes – what was he afraid to see in her? After six years she finally left. He came home and found her packing. He nodded solemnly, and at that moment she wanted to hit him, even if he was right, even if there was nothing to say.

No one could erase the emptiness or make him full again. He was always honest about that, with himself and with them, all of them. Most took it as a challenge, willingly suspending rational thought, dreamily succumbing to the unattainable and wanting it all the more. He did tell them, at the beginning, and they pretended to listen. He reminded them, not only directly, but in actions: forgotten gestures, apathetic absences, the casual dismissal of something whose importance he simply couldn’t grasp. Only the last one gave him the slightest pause. She was different. Even if she wasn’t.

He waited for the day to warm, for the fog to dissipate, but the opposite occurred. Rolling in with the waves was a cold front, and more rain. He pulled his body further into itself. His fingers remained clenched around his thumbs. His head scrunched down into his neck, as much like a turtle as he could muster. He even felt his nuts retract, trying to return to their origin of warmth. It struck him that that was the goal of his life, to return to the womb. All the women he’d been with had merely been vessels, passage-ways through which he struggled to win back the safety and protection lost upon his birth. Maybe that’s why he never minded when they took another from him, dangling the threat of it all like something he might mind. It was something he probably should mind, so he let the assumptions of hurt and loss work to heal them. Allow them the pleasure of his pain, that’s all he could offer. This last time, though, he could not pretend. That may have been what hurt her most of all.

He was always trying to find his way back to a time before death touched him. That’s why he sought out the Sound, with its unmitigated fury, its sense of time immemorial, the idea of having come before humans. On days when it was empty, when the boats weren’t sailing through and the beachcombers were chased away by the weather, he was drawn there. He imagined himself as the first and the last inhabitant. It never upset him. He didn’t feel lonely. They never understood that. No one understood that. He smiled.

Seagulls called to each other overhead, rushing into the wind, their feathers oblivious to the rain. Looking up, he squinted into the wet sky, trying to follow their flight. Perhaps it was time to move again. By now he knew it wouldn’t solve anything, but it was still something to do, at the very least a distraction. He could return to the East Coast. He’d never gone back before, and didn’t know how that would be. It wouldn’t be the same, but maybe that’s what he needed.

Beneath him, the stone stayed cold. Sand drifted around his sneakers. If he stayed still long enough he would become part of the landscape. His skin would tighten in the wind and sun, his clothing would erode in the rain, and his body would soon be buried by the sea. He pictured himself enmeshed with the driftwood and seaweed, caught in such a primitive dream-catcher, tumbling along with the tide. Still his body fought against it, shivering in the cold, impelling him to move, to stand, to walk away from the undertow.

Is that what it felt like? Is that what all his losses were? Was it simply like being sucked out to sea, violently or not-so-violently culled from warm darkness into cold darkness? He couldn’t remember what it was like growing inside his mother. No one could. The earliest he could muster was three or four years of age: the fallen dresser he had tried to climb, the stairs growing smaller and dimmer as someone carried him to bed, a dilapidated paper honeycomb Easter bunny he held onto longer than anyone could understand. He wondered if he would have minded being taken out of life earlier, before cognizance. And then he wondered about after. And now.

For someone who seemed to care so much for others – for those he did not even know – he seemed so reckless with himself, and his supposed loved ones. A number of them said that. How could he explain that he shouldn’t have to doubt those he loved? How to make them realize it was a testament to them, without sounding like a complete prick, like the very thing they were accusing him of being?

This was why he came here, to think things out. He allowed the thoughts to come and go, presenting themselves as problematic, turning them over in his head, and then letting them pass. He didn’t solve them, not in any concrete way, not usually, but he faced them, confronted them, and sent them on their way. It was his own form of meditation, and it always worked, leaving his head clear. Once that happened he stayed to enjoy the empty bliss. Until today.

He thought of her expression as she came in to pick up her final bag. The sad, crumpled tote sagged on the floor by the front door, its worn handles limp at its side. He remembered seeing that bad on a sunny beach, in another part of the world, and another part of his life. It came back to him then, the laughter and the happiness – for he had to have been happy then, hadn’t he? He had to have been happy once. He hoped she was, and that she would be again. It was the closest he came to love, perhaps. She didn’t speak. For every inch of his silent retreat, she had fought back with words. For her final defeat, she looked at him, lowered her head, and walked quietly out, not quite closing the door behind her. Those few seconds of silence stung more than all the years of yelling.

Behind him, a vast stand of evergreens drooped with water. The sea approached. A salty spray, driven by wind, coated his face with a blanket of pinpricks. The thought of leaving returned to him as a boat came vaguely into view. He rocked back a bit, lifting his feet from their sandy trappings. Another thought: she had left the door open a crack. He didn’t realize it at the time. He must have shut it after she left, or maybe it was still ajar, wavering in the wind. The thought of an empty house was more frightening than the solitude of the Sound. He would stay there a little longer.

{See also 1:13, 2:13, 3:13, 4:13…)

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