I want to tell you how it felt to bike by the sea in Denmark.
How it felt to be sitting on the knowledge that I’m sick again for months and just trying to live around it, live above it. Make a bridge of toothpicks and shoelace that I know will never hold my weight.
I want to talk about constantly trying to get my head above water, the endless work of carving a path through deep water, breaking the surface with a flash that burns my lungs, desperation constantly pushing me to fight against that which never breaks. Limbs cast in iron.
I want to talk about the airport where it was so crowded and loud that I had a heart spasm.
Two pills on an empty stomach.
I just wanted to get on that plane. I just wanted to fly away from it all. The world beneath us was all brown and dead from heat, a still and cloudless diorama. Dollhouse miniature of a parched August lawn.
I want to talk about what it’s like to be in pain so often and for so many years that you don’t even notice it anymore. It’s not pain that is the surprise, but the absence of it.
I want to talk about reading all afternoon in the stifling heat on the second floor of the guest house on an old corduroy couch with a fan blowing on me, knowing that I can’t go outside under the sun because I am too ill and because of this, being somewhere besides my own apartment feels stupid. The illness is becoming too strong, and soon, I won’t be able to pretend that I will ever be a regular person again, soon it must be addressed. It’s clearing its throat. It will be heard.
But for now, there is the evening, which in the Danish summer lasts a very long time, and it is through this blue hue that I creep. I don’t go to the Michelin star restaurant down the road, I make fun of it. Food: what a fucking joke. I get sick eating a plain cheese pizza. The streets are filled with the sound of the ocean and I ache for the ocean all around me in a way that feels almost sexual in its intensity. I keep looking out the window to make sure it’s really there. I walk through the streets with the cluttered houses and cute fences and ramshackle gardens, my feet burning. Everyone’s last name is Kristensen according to little wood placards nailed to their porch. There are weathervanes and porthole windows and harbors filled with white boats. Whatever happens here, it feels like everyone is safe and never sad. It feels like everyone is blonde and walks out by the ocean at night with their dogs and is fine because of it. I’m so used to the crowds of western Europe that this seaside town feels empty as a movie set. When we go “downtown” to the grocery store, we’re surprised to find a paved over concrete strip mall and we feel robbed of European village authenticity. But none of that really matters. What matters is that I want so much to just be alive and well that I am happy to accept many bargains in exchange for it but, much to my dismay, that’s actually not how reality works. I’m trying so hard the force of it is breaking through my chest like a bone growth, out from my sternum, smashing through me like the fist of fucking God and I know it will never, ever matter but I am trying any way. So. In the evening we get on two bikes and go south down the bike trail that follows the sea.
I wear a dress over a swimsuit. The coming darkness embraces me instead of burns me, for which I am grateful, and for awhile I feel nothing but joy. I am so free in the wind, with my bare legs pumping, that sometimes I sing, whatever comes to mind, Blondie songs. I’ve spent so many years not knowing you could get all this goodness just from a bike! First, there is a lane of fancy houses on the ocean and when we go by them, I look in all the windows, unashamed, then we go up an incline and after that down past a different harbor, boats bobbing peacefully, and finally there’s only the fields and the blue, blue coast and the sound of water and the sound of wind and there’s no one around, the sun is almost down but not yet, even though it’s 9pm, its throbbing against the horizon like a red orange mess and it’s making the sky look like something you could love forever for as opposed to the stinging pain of hot white light for which you can feel nothing but dread and resentment, there’s sandy narrow strips of beaches out a ways in the water and cows and big swaying trees next to the road. The wind is in my ears and all around my whole body, something is touching me, and it is the motion I create by moving my legs on this weird, beautiful machine and this thing touching my whole body feels good and I get to feel this good feeling for minutes at a time. I feel like a person, like a girl. I want my boyfriend to throw the bikes aside when we stop and drink water and fuck me in the fields so that the sensation of good and alive never stops. I want to keep biking south, past Copenhagen and just keep going, maybe if I never get off this bike, maybe if I always follow the sea, that will cure me and be the thing, the magic thing that will heal me and then I can finally be the glowing girl on an alternative health blog who fixed it all with one weird trick and I could go back to my old, unappreciated body that seems so perfect to me now and I wouldn’t have to hate myself anymore and I wouldn’t have to rot, rot, rot in here like a fucking over ripe banana and I wouldn’t have to wonder anymore if I could ever love myself, if I could ever have just one week, maybe a month even? where I get to enjoy having a body and a brain.
I know illness is coming for me but I am going to bike away from it.
I’m going to hang a sign on my immune system: gone to the sea.
On our way back we stop at the big beach and lay the bikes on the gravel and walk down to the salty water and take our clothes off. The water is the same temperature as lukewarm tea and so still it’s like a lake, almost impossible to believe this is really the ocean. Some of these nights it reflects a red moon like a sparkly drizzle of blood across the water and everything takes on the quality of a science fiction book jacket. The water is perfectly clear and clean and no matter how far out we go, only waist/chest high.
I’m looking at Sweden, way off in the distance, and I tell myself I could walk there.
The sky is purple. I sink to my knees. I want to live like this. They could leave me here, pickle me, out here in this temperate bath water sea. Maybe I could grow one long fish tail and swim away. I feel nothing out in the water, in the best of ways, a beautiful, salt blessed nothing and I look out at the flat horizon and hope this is what death feels like, being in a flat, bodiless sea under a lilac sky with the heliotrope reflection off the water making an unbroken cellophane surface all around you.
I float on my back and look up at the sky, where God lives, and I cry. Salt into salt.
Thank you. Fuck you. I’m grateful. I’m hurt.
I don’t want to get out of the water. I don’t want to journey back toward the pain. I want a way out. Can’t you help me? You fucking fool who made me, you monkey, can’t you love me back just a little you motherfucker, can’t you give me a blessing that I can carry like a stone in my pocket? I want answers. I want to know why any of this was done. I want to know why there wasn’t just nature and fuck all to the rest. I want to know why I’m here and what there is to learn that isn’t just flinging myself through one thousand fucking plate glass windows.
Please. Help me.
Give me grace, maybe, just a little so I can live through it one more time and one more time after that.
Explain to me why I never appreciated being being beautiful when I had the chance and why I didn’t fuck everyone I ever wanted to but instead had to go all the way down into the dark basement, find the ball of tangled Christmas lights and go numb and bloody trying to undo the knot. Will I ever be sorry enough or will I ever just not care and what does any of it matter in the face of the pain. The face of pain is like your face, consuming and indifferent to me.
Bless me, bless me please, out here, here in the water. I am baptized for you God of suffering and beauty and ruin and illness and abuse and wasted love and unrequited love and love unbidden and love unfulfilled and love forgotten and love abandoned and love spoilt and love unseen. God of the unused and useless, God of potential and forgiveness and piety and humility.
Am I humble enough? Have I been humbled enough yet?
You have to hear me out because I’m going to need all of it. I’m going to need every last ounce. I’m going to need it all of it poured right, straight into me like a waterfall down my throat.
I’m going to need everything you’ve got until you’re empty and I am full.
Elinor Abbott is an American writer living in South Holland. She is the author of Is This The Most Romantic Moment of My Life? a chapbook of short essays from Banango Editions. She has been published by The Wild Hunt, Human Parts, Bright Wall / Dark Room and other publications. Find her on Twitter @little_thousand.
Featured Photo Credit: Elinor Abbott