Life According to a Beach Flea
For a considerable number of of my teenage years, I was pretty convinced I wanted to be a marine biologist. It might have been about a misplaced love of The Voyage of the Mimi, but it also might have been about the way the ocean sings lullabies and fish dance ballet and the way things are possible in the water that just aren't possible on land. My love of those things got intertwined with an academic interest and I didn't know then that it's best to check on whether you have any aptitude for a thing before you decide to devote your life to it. Before my freshman year of college, when I learned that I don't actually like the biology of marine animals much (just their poetry), I went off to a summer school where I was to happily spend the summer with other nerdy teenagers, sweating away the summer days in a marine bio lab and designing and executing my own little lab experiment.
That summer was everything coming of age films glorify. I got a glimpse of what it was like to create yourself independent of family and history. I fell in love with women who made my head swim. I went to class every day in a lab that smelled of salt water and antibacterial soap and sat listening to the professor talk and the aquarium filters pump and wheeze through gallons of sea water. I tried very hard to focus on the lecture of the day, but I couldn't. I couldn't because I'd fallen in love. With a beach flea.
The scud (that's them, up top) was my first intellectual love, and I should have known then that marine biology and I were not meant to be. I did not fall in love with those beach fleas for their scientific value. I fell in love with the idea that something so simple could exist, could intrinsically know how to exist. I'm still in love with it. I spent hours that summer stooped and crouching next to tide pools, sun drying salty water on the back of my neck. I watched them swim around and around and around. They didn't have to think things out—hell, they couldn't think things out. There was nothing to think about. They swam. They lived. There was no struggle to understand or communicate or find company. They just lived. That's all they had to do, ever, and it was so easy for them. Life did not get in their way because there was only life. There was only the side swimming that defined them, the ebb and flow of the tides, the day after day after day. I just couldn't believe it then. I can't believe it now.
Some days I try very hard to move through my days scud-like. I breathe and I try not to falter and I watch the sky and try to remember that I know, without all the interfering navel-gazing and anxious deliberating, how to live. I know, if I just shut up long enough to hear it, that my breath goes like this: in and out, in and out. All day long it goes. My feet take me where I need to go, back and forth, without a lot of help. I chew and swallow. I sleep and wake. And all of this other stuff, this life that tries to get in the way, is just the trappings of being human. I'm still just an animal, still just trying to get from one part of the day to the next. I know the way. I watched a beach flea. It showed me how.