In the beginning, I just came here to think.
When the 3 am house was silent—so silent that it ached—and I couldn’t sleep because my head was filled with why why why, I would sneak out of bed, and open the front door to the sound of the waves. I would inhale the salty air, and pull the door shut behind me, silently. At first I would just walk out to the cliff’s edge, my bare feet on the cold dirt, and gaze out at the ocean. Just for a moment. Just to catch my breath. And after a few minutes I would go back to bed, to my sodden pillows and the smell of bleach. Everything in my body recoiled from that bed, but I would still go back. Because I did try, you see. I tried. Sometimes I’d eventually fall asleep. Not often.
Maybe we should sell the bed, he’d said, and he might have been right. But it was more than just the bed. Because the whole house had watched when I woke up that night. The walls had heard my cries—what’s happening oh god what’s happening. The floorboards had caught the blood, and the small bathroom window had gazed down on me as I lay on the tile floor. That window watched, indifferent, as I felt her slip out of me, away from me, lifeless. I knew she was gone. But I couldn’t say the words because there were other sounds coming from deep inside me—a moaning I did not recognize. So yes the bed needed to go, but everything else did, too. Instead I had to go.
I have always loved the sea. That was why we bought that house. It stood all alone on that stretch of road, clinging to the steep cliff, with the ocean roaring down below. It was miles from the nearest neighbour, and that felt just right to me. On our first night in that house, we stood at the windows looking out at the sea, and seagulls soared past at eye level, as if we weren’t even there.
The floor in the kitchen was alarmingly tilted, so that if you placed an orange on the counter it would roll right off, all on its own. We’d laughed when we saw that. And an orange was the size of the baby that very day, according to the book I’d bought, which felt like a funny coincidence. Those were days when laughs were easy. We could hear the ocean from every room, and the morning sun created a square of light on the wall of the little room off the kitchen, and I thought, She will love that. Things seemed perfect at first. I was so close to perfect—held it inside me for five whole months. Perfect.
But then, after I lost her, I just couldn’t breathe in there. I really had no choice—that’s the part he didn’t understand. And so I would go, out of that house, and down the cliffside to the sand. At dawn I would walk, the icy sea lapping at my ankles and soaking my skirt. The sun would tinge the sky pink at the horizon, and I would walk and walk, and the ocean echoed the empty ache inside of me. When I got tired I would sink into the cool sand and sit. I’d rest my eyes on the horizon, and the crashing of the waves filled my chest, which felt hollow like a drum. I could hear seals barking somewhere far away, and gulls screaming over the water in the distance. They were calling to me, I realized. Stay.
One night I discovered this spot here, and I thought it looked like someone took an ice cream scooper to the cliff. Listen—there’s no wind in here. And stays dry. So I started coming here more and more, and sometimes I would close my eyes and curl my body in the sand, in the same shape as the walls. It was more comfortable than that bed. And once I realized that, it was really the only place I could sleep.
I still went back to the house, and to him, of course. Like I said—I tried. I did want to return to Good morning and What’s for dinner. I really did. But then he’d said We can always try again. And that was too much. Too much. I don’t know how he didn’t see that. So that was when I snapped, I suppose you’d say. I clambered down the cliff and ran across the sand, and straight into the waves, deeper and deeper, until they were grabbing me by the shoulders and dragging me down. I gulped huge mouthfuls of salty water and just kept going deeper. I was done with everything above sea level. I closed my eyes, and it felt like surrender. But he came and yanked me out, with a violence which seemed unnecessary, and he pulled me to the sand. He was crying. I might have been too. And he’d said This is insanity I don’t know who you are anymore. And the gulls out over the water kept calling me back.
I don’t know when he left exactly, and I don’t remember the last time I went back to that house. I’m sure someone else lives there now. Maybe they’re happy like I once was. Maybe the walls make them feel safe. I just know I have everything that I need here, nestled into the cliffside. Your children need not fear me; I would never hurt anyone. I am where I belong now. The ground is level, and at night I curl up in the sand and I listen to the crash-pull-crash-pull, and I sleep. In the morning I wake to the mercury liquid rolling past and the milky sky swirling above. And the ocean knows my emptiness and fills it with its roar.
Alison Ozawa Sanders has worked as an Assistant District Attorney for almost twenty years. She lives in Santa Cruz with her husband and three children, and when she’s not writing, working, or chasing children she can be found either running through the redwoods or gazing out at the Pacific.