i woke up last night in the dark hours confused, heart pounding, uncertain of where i was. i’ve been sleeping with earplugs and not sleeping very well even at that but i had dropped deep and in the glub-glub hum of my own head had drifted far, far away, so much so that waking to my own tangled sheets and the baby’s cot beside me was startling.

in my dream i’d been deep sea diving, the flick of my flippers propelling me like a porpoise, all grace and power and weightless agility.  then, wham, i was beached in bed with cold feet and dry mouth, totally subject to gravity.

i grabbed onto my pillow, bewildered but relieved.  i am terrified of diving.

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i’ve spent most of the past month wishing myself elsewhere. the relentless gray and frozen slush of Maritime February has lost whatever charm it may once have had when i was young and slept more.  the call of beaches has been a siren song in my ear lately. it’s funny. i generally eschew sunbathing and stuffing myself into the sausage casing  of a swimsuit, but the feel of warm sand on my feet? oh, i lust. sheer, wet, shameless lust.

while driving the other day – because being sleep-deprived isn’t enough for me, i like to make driving just that leetle bit more thrilling by not paying attention, either – i tallied up the places Other Than Here where i have spent Februaries in the past.

*Vancouver – February ’95 …rainy.
*elsewhere in the Maritimes – Februaries ’89-’94, ’98-2000, 2006 …as frozen & slushy as here. and February 2006 was spent entirely in a hospital room in Halifax. with a stellar view of the slush.
*the Arctic – Februaries ’96 & ’97 …uh frozen. and -70 most of the time. with about four hours of daylight.
*Turkey – February 2001 …coldish, jean jacket coldish, and mostly rainy. still fun.
*Korea – Februaries 2002 & 2003 …coldish, though with cherry blossoms beginning to bud on the trees. they have real spring there, the kind that doesn’t just sneak up for a wet week in late May.
* Thailand – February 2004 …ah. there we go. sigh. THIS is the way to spend February. warm sand. the best food in the world. fresh coconut shakes. ancient monuments. gaudy temples. ladyboys. liquor served in little sand pails.

(admittedly, Dave & i got ourselves robbed on Valentine’s Day that February, but we kinda primped ourselves up and begged for it, so you can’t hold it against Thailand. we stayed up late at a little outdoor beach bar drinking way too many of those little sand pails filled with Singapore Slings and, somewhere about one am and three sheets to the wind we decided to wander home along the beach and go swimming.  without our clothes.  or wallets…which we left in the sand where we, uh, thought we could see them. in the dark. ’cause we’re superheroes like that.  when we stumbled back up out of the deliciously warm water and realized our clothes had been rifled through and our wallets were short on cash, we just thanked god & robbers for leaving our passports intact. drunk tax, as they say. should YOU ever visit a beach where the drinks come in delightful little pails, please do not be so stoopid.)

Thailand is where i wish i was, especially when it is cold and gray here and i long to disappear from the drudgery of diaper, rinse, repeat and are those mashed peas dried onto the side of the potty or no?  Thailand, you have become the fictional paramour of all my tourist fantasies. you don’t even need to send roses.

just let me stay above water.

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is it mixing metaphors to say that the first time i went diving, it was for a swan song?

we were far from home and falling apart and we knew we would not make New Years’ but still we booked for Christmas on a Thai island paradise, the honeymoon we’d never had. walking out of the airport into the nighttime swelter, curiously fragrant, i saw the box marked “Passengers, please leave guns here” and knew i was not in Kansas anymore. we sang carols over warm Southern Comfort Christmas Eve in a room with a fan and two twin beds, and in the morning the trail of ants to our sticky glasses was a thousand strong and there were flowers in my hair and i missed a cocky hairpin turn on my rented motorcycle and ground out in a gravel spray on the way to a Golden Buddha we never did find. and in a cheap hotel the last night in-country we sat over complimentary toast triangles and he was the one who asked for a divorce but i was the one who made him, too cowardly to own the words myself, and it was done.

in between, there was the diving. he’d always wanted to. i thought i had too, which is really to say i’d never thought much about it except that i liked Jacques Cousteau documentaries and no other opportunity had ever presented itself. and then we were sitting in a little training room and suddenly there was an unfamiliar queasy hum in my head and my mind flailed for the exit but i’d already paid and so  i donned my tank and my mask and we jumped in.

underwater, even a few feet underwater, is a world unto itself.

sometimes the human psyche can only handle so many brave new worlds.  sometimes, when a person who cannot swim and who’s just left all ties behind and moved halfway around the planet finds herself underwater with her mask leaking chlorine into her eyes and her marriage to the one person within five thousand miles who knows her name crumbling, she begins to feel a little untethered.

i lost my shit, panicked.  tried to kick up to freedom, to the known, to the sense of safety i suddenly noticed i’d utterly abandoned.

the instructor, a newbie, held me down.  in seven feet of water.  apparently they try to break trainees of panic surfacing – the bends can kill, you know.

she broke me, indeed. panic swelled to desperation, then deflated. i gave in, to all of it. i sank to that pool floor and sobbed, sobbed out all the loss and confusion and fear in the middle of a fucking public diving lesson, in the strange solitary underwater hum, while the newbie instructor tried to pry me off the floor of the pool and the man who would become my ex floated quietly in front of me, steadying me with his eyes.

and then i surfaced and went back to our hut alone, to pack.

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robbed. humbled. did i mention sunburnt? the Thai tourism board will be hiring me any day.

i made four trips to Thailand between December 2000 and February 2004….one of the very few countries i’ve ever visited repeatedly without working in.  that first visit stripped me naked, made me feel – perversely – utterly at home there, at home in my foreign skin and wanderings in a way i was nowhere else during those years abroad.  i left something of myself – tears, but also pride, and a blind clinging to the known – behind at the bottom of the pool that afternoon.  and ever after, when i am weary and worn and in need of a good skin-shedding, it seems to be where i long to go to warm my bones and rest myself and surface, changed and ready to go on.

though i have never again felt the compulsion to go along on someone else’s adventure sport lesson, thank you very much.

do you have a corner of the earth that calls you, that you long to see or return to? do you have things you’re scared to do?

is it still fucking winter where you are, too?