I went for a walk along the beach.
It was quiet, past dawn but just barely; it smelled like salt and fish and the water was so blue I ached. I understood why poets are drawn to the ocean. I waited for inspiration until I had a blister under one toe and burnt-pink shoulders.
I walked, picked up shells, kicked at rotting logs, and couldn’t focus. Instead of inspired I felt shattered by the sea, insignificant, and being alone only made me feel smaller.
I expected that, alone, I would find myself. Instead I only found myself without distractions, wondering if I made myself good company.
I need a little solitude, but I would rather have plans on the weekends—loud, full plans like last week’s hike through the forest. I asked questions and someone answered. I laughed until my stomach hurt. I felt that confirmation that others give you—Am I? You are.
Then those plans end and I go home. The others in the house go to bed, and I climb my stairs and close my door and am confronted with myself. And sometimes I have nothing new to say, no new thoughts to explore, and so I numb myself with movies, lights, or music. I stay awake into the dawn hours illuminated by my lamp or a game on my phone, trying to hold off the terror of sleeping alone, of entering that vast, dark ocean.
I don’t know why I fear it. Perhaps because I am so small and the silence is so big I cannot touch the ends of it. I am afraid of what I will find, or not find, in its depths. For in it there is creativity or self-reflection or God, and I walk by the white waves with nothing but the taste of salt in my mouth.
I’ve spent eleven months in this place. I’ve leaned my head against the windows of the yellow buses and watched the mountains roll by. I’ve walked the aisles of supermarkets just familiar enough to feel strange. I’ve hiked and journaled and cried alone and I’m used to myself and my thoughts.
But sometimes I am lonely, so lonely that I can’t take this solitude as a gift. It feels embarrassing or unfashionable to admit this, that after almost a year, I feel untethered and empty sometimes, even despite support systems and good friends.
I know better who I am, alone, but I still wait anxiously for morning and the chatter over coffee, so I remember that I am, too.
I stayed out on the beach after everyone else went to bed.
In the moonlit dark I stripped to my underwear and waded out into the water, which was body-warm, the same temperature as the night.
I could feel the waves wrapping around my ankles and calves, trying to pull me back to shore. They hissed and roared like the sound of my heart in my ears, which pounded because I had caught my breath and not released it.
I stood for a moment, small in the black, crashing sea until I could no longer bear it. I turned and scrambled up the sand bank, pulled on my clothes, and walked back towards the lights on the beach.
Katerina Parsons (’15) lives in Washington D.C., where she works in advocacy at Mennonite Central Committee’s Washington office and studies international development at American University’s School of International Service. She spends a lot of time thinking about US policy towards Central America and North Korea, writing, singing, and searching for the city’s best pupusas (suggestions welcome).