For some, water is cleansing and pure. For others it’s a murky mess and something vast and turbulent, much like the oceans of the Pacific. My whole life I have never been a good swimmer. In fact I never really learned to swim and kind of got by. Until this summer I had never dove into the deep end in a pool. I felt powerful knowing the water didn’t get me and I was alright. Being thrown from the high-dive when I was five by my swim teacher, sent me into a water-fearing frenzy for the rest of my childhood days. Now at twenty I like to think I’ve left some of my childish quirks behind. As that child, I was baptized on October 26, 1986; it was my first cleansing since leaving the womb and blessed by the water that saved my soul.
I find that pools of water like lakes, river, and pools don’t frighten me at all. It’s the oceans that keep me scared because they are so powerful and large. You cannot predict what it will do and it takes lives all the time. My mom almost drowned in the ocean at seventeen. She remembers being under the water, looking above and hearing and seeing only a biplane overhead until someone pulled her from under the waves. Terrified of this experience, the ocean has been a force to reckon with. I’m not one to be found surfing and though I can swim out in the ocean I always have to touch the bottom or I am afraid that I’ll be swept away with the current. I grew up on the beaches of San Diego. My grandparents always had a beach house on Ocean Front where you can watch the sunset and let the sun kiss every part of you whenever you felt like it. I grew up on the sand, hardly in the water, but that shiny mass has always been near me, calling me into it, wishing to take me away. Today my grandparents are long gone and my father lives alone in his beach condo across the street from the sand in Pacific Beach. The beach house before this one created my high school memories. Now in college, my dad lets me stay at his condo and it has a different feel from when he used to be on the bay. My family just can’t seem to get away from the Pacific. I now live in Playa Del Rey, a mile from the beach. I can’t seem to leave either.
After all the love and fear for water I realized, that other than the Pacific Ocean, which has shaped my childhood and now my young adulthood, I find that the Colorado River has played an important role. Though the times have been few in which the river and I have spent together, those times are specific and very prominent in my mind. The first time I crossed the California/Arizona border I watched the sky turn even a brighter blue and felt the heat on my windows. This was the first trip my dad made an effort to bring us along. We were going to the “river” as everyone we knew called it. This is where everyone has boats and Sea-doos and trailers on the cliffs of Lake Martinez in Yuma. Temperatures rose to 118 degrees on the water. The river was the savior to the heat that continually parched our throats. Where I come from in East Count everyone knows what you are talking about when you say you are going to the river. So I got to finally be in that category and be apart of the legend that is the river. Riding in a speedboat for the first time was such an experience with water grazing my face and my heart beating to the rhythm of the hits on the wakes that other boats created. Fast and direct we went to find a sandbar amidst the ample waters. We stayed out there all day with the river water at our feet. In the trailer where we slept, the family all closed in with the hum of the air conditioning creating the ambience behind our loud speaking tones. Memories were shared and new ones were made.
One time when I was at this very same river with the very same people a storm came upon us. Outside on the cliffs we stood opening our mouths to the rain that doused us in a hot and heavy summer August. The sensation of water touching every part of me was sensuous and unforgettable, the instant it hits your skin it dries. In every direction you could see the storm. East, west, north and south…the four corners could be seen from this high cliff reaching into the sky away from the river below. In every direction lightening in crackles and streaks came in to touch us. It was the most amazing experience. Water all around and the storm surrounding me while it was hot outside. Never have I felt now what I felt then. The river stands as a distant memory of my childhood.
I went back to the river for the first time in 6 years, in 2006 summer. My girlfriend from high school married right after graduation and moved to Yuma, Arizona to be near the military base with Marine Corps husband James. As young lovers eager for visitors, me and my friend Stephanie drove out there to say goodbye to James before he was shipped to Iraq. Returning to the river was different this time because I drove there and got to see the drive in a new way. And I was going there at an adult, not a child consistently asking, “Are we there yet?” This time we stayed in an apartment twenty minutes from the river so the experience was quite unique. I wasn’t afraid of the boats and willingly dove into the river that used to scare me. All day on the sand bar felt like I had never left this place. Still returning there and not being with family was weird at first. But I got to finally experience what I loved with friends my own age, something I hadn’t gotten to to before. New sights, new feelings brought old memories to the table and allowed me to edit my once innocent view of the river.
I’ll never forget that summer with the storm on the cliffs or this summer visiting my friend, Loralie. The river and my Pacific Ocean have shaped my life in more ways than I could’ve imagined. With holidays spent in pacific beach and vacation weekends to the river, I found my happy place and the water to purify me.