I always knew my mother was unhappy. I just didn’t know why.
I don’t really know when I realized she wasn’t happy. When I look back at my childhood, all I can remember of her is long, black hair blowing in the wind as she stood on the deck of our house. She spent most of her time staring at the ocean with a sad expression on her face. The ocean was all around us, and it was the center of our world. It surrounded the tiny island where we lived (Matinicus, Maine. Population: 54), forcing us to contend with the water if we wanted to visit the mainland. It was the source of all our income, and it has always felt like my best friend. It just didn’t occur to me, back then, that my mother was looking at it differently.
Our house sat on a high, rocky bluff that overlooked the narrow strip of beach where our boathouse stood. Every day, my dad took the boat out on the water. He was a fisherman, and that’s actually how he and my mother met. She was in a terrible boating accident and very nearly drowned. My father came bouncing along the waves in his Boston Whaler and scooped her right out of a blow-up life raft.
It was such a romantic story, but the drama of almost drowning severely affected my mother. Since that day, she never went on a boat or in the water again. I often wondered if she was remembering her accident, those times I caught her staring at the gray waves of the North Atlantic Ocean.
I, too, was fascinated by the ocean, always had been. I think I could swim before I could walk. My dad once told me more than seventy percent of the Earth is the oceans. They connect everything to everything else. They link the continents, rivers, all the other oceans. And here’s the interesting part: most of the ocean floor is still undiscovered, unmapped. Unexplored. Scientists guess at all the different life forms which might exist in the ocean—but they don’t really know.
It is a liquid land filled with secrets and mysteries, and I wanted to discover them all. Looking back, maybe I was always interested in the water because I wanted to know why my mother found it so fascinating. Maybe I should have stayed on that small strip of beach.
But I didn’t. I went on a journey to find my mother…and somewhere along the way, I found myself instead.