A wave rose up and knocked me down. I swallowed a river of relief. The dam broke, unleashing a flood of blood to my brain. I thought I could not breathe. I thought I might be drowning. In the excitement, I had simply forgotten to inhale. I had failed to notice I was floating in the shallows.
Soaking wet, coughing up water, overwhelmed, I finally put my feet on the ground and stood upright. I emerged from the shore, where they were all waiting. Gathered in such smiles, my heart squeezed into a tight contraction, seized in a tetanus of love. My knees buckled, but they were waiting, keeping me steady.
I thought if I ever found this land, ever put my legs on solid ground again, it would require some kind of transformation. Drifting at sea for so many years, I imagined I had adapted, and that more adaptations would be needed to reverse the effect of salt water and the lilt of rolling oceans.
But as my hair was drying, as they all embraced me, I looked at my hands and they were the same hands. I was always this same person. It wasn’t a change in belief, or the loss of gills, or fine swimming skills that brought me to this country. It was just the tide, the wave that came and finally pushed me towards my destination, rather than away from it. As if the ocean recognized I was not one of her children, and simply spit me out.
And this land is not a beautiful tropical island. It is a rocky northern shore. It is still a long walk to civilization, and when I get there, I will have to build a new life with my bare hands. I will have to dig out stones from cold dirt and lay a new foundation. It will take years to feel that I have found a home.
But I have been treading water for a long time, worried that the sharks would soon circle me, dreading a death by drowning. And it is such a relief to be on the shore, to smell fresh earth that I have a new fear now. I am scared to forget this moment, scared to forget my months at sea. Or I am frightened that I will feel it all too acutely, and die from the wave of joy. Each time I get up, it returns and sweeps me off of my feet.