Reading The Sea

Ostensibly, I’m reading John Banville’s Booker prize winning novel, The Sea, but it’s on hold for the moment.

Tonight, I’m writing from beside the water and thinking about this place, trying to read, as it were, an English village that fronts the Irish Sea. This has been an adventurous, noteworthy day, full of the things you do when you are alone in a seaside town. Namely, I have wandered on foot through the town and throughout my hotel, becoming familiar with the place and grabbing a slice of how things work here, alongside the slice of ham and cheese quiche I bought at noon. Things are working, but not in the ways I expected.

Here, the library works superbly. It was the primo destination for my morning’s stroll into town. An astute and competent inquiry librarian (aren’t they all?) was on duty, someone who specializes in the local history and who has a room full of proper research material close by. I was looking for record of my immigrant grandfather and grandmother, both supposedly born in or near this place in 1713 and 1715, respectively.

What I discovered, with help from the librarian, is that there is no record of my ancestors, nor anyone of the surname, born or christened in this area. None. And this is a place that knows how to keep records! This morning I held a fragile book and searched in vain for some trace of history, a link to my life, a word of belonging to a place I hold dear. We, that immigrant family, simply aren’t here, in this one place I’ve always believed, as part of any permanent record.

It’s possible that years and misunderstanding may have broadened a parish name into that of a town, a New World interpretation of an Old World declaration. That is the most likely event. My ancestors could have originated from any number of villages, a multitude of similarly named parishes.

Still, the trip is in no way fruitless. Tonight I swam for nearly an hour in the hotel spa, lapping the meters until my heart pounded in my ears. I sat in the whirlpool afterwards, bubbles from the water jets clinging to my legs and surrounding each hair on my arms until they stood like sea anemones, waving and beckoning. I traced into them with my fingers, at first tickling lines of obliteration down each limb, wiping the bubbles out by row and non-sensical design.

Finally, I wrote into the oxygenation, letters, initials, each one a split second psalm to people I carry inside. Etchings lasting only the moment it took to trace them on my skin. Before I left the water, one last letter, an ‘S’, for swimming, sea, solace, for the irrefutable record of Somewhere, just not here.