A Gulf So Wide
Updated: Jul 11, 2022
Padre Island, Texas, 2022: It is New Year’s Day, chilly and blustery, the kind of beach day bordering on miserable. I am ready to leave, to retreat to our ramshackle rental, but my daughter is immersed in another world, one in which she talks to the ocean and it responds. For her, I stay. We only ever have today, and if there is one thing I have learned in life, it’s that time at the beach with my girl is precious.
As I cup my face from the wind, she practices her version of gymnastics,letting the sand absorb her fall. After many failed cartwheels, she walks up to the first sandbar, kneels down, and talks to the ocean. Her hands gesture as if in deep conversation. When she is finally still, I take her photo. The swirling ocean sweeps past her and she jumps up, racing away, her heart perhaps as free as it ever will be. The moment is over so fast.
"Don't go too far!" I shout in my Mom voice. Four years ago, I was swimming with her on a day like this - what the local surfers call a washing machine - when a wave toppled her over and sucked her under. For at least half a minute my heart stopped as adrenaline flooded my body. I could not see her bright watermelon-print swimming suit nor even a shadow of her tiny, five-year-old frame. Just as I was about to scream, she popped up, unharmed but scared. I grabbed her and we headed for shore.
"Can we go now?" she asked as we waded back. I held her close, trying not to cry.
Once my heartbeat calmed, I worried she would forever fear the beach, or worse, recall this unsolicited submergence as her first memory. But my fear was unwarranted. A phobia of the ocean did not develop. By the time we visit again, a few months later, she has forgiven the ocean.
It is a calm day, the water green, the sea foam minimal. Together, we swim in the Gulf with sea turtles, fish, and crabs. With people, trash, and heat. With love, anxiety, and hope.
Joy Victory is a writer and editor living in Austin, TX. She is currently the Managing Editor of HealthyHearing.com and a long-time healthcare journalist. Her personal essays have been published in The San Antonio Review and Montana Mouthful. Her journalism has been published in Cosmopolitan Magazine, VICE, ABCNEWS.com, and the USC’s Center for Health Journalism, among other outlets. She lives with her husband, daughter and rotund cat. When she’s not working, parenting or writing, you can find her outside hiking a greenbelt or catching some live music.