The wind whips in a grey sky, intensifying as we climb the steps to the beach, diminishing again as we descend. Somehow warm and cold at the same time. Salty, moist. Sand ricochets in pale streams across the shore, minuscule particles stinging my shins. The pain almost feels good in a weird, sadistic way, like scratching an itch too hard.

The sea is in a frenzy, lines of whitecaps charging the beach, waves steely soldiers. Foam accumulates in burgeoning, beckoning piles at the wash line, round pieces of fluff pinched off and whisked away across the sand like evaporating tumbleweeds or dust bunnies.

I am drawn to the water, the open wildness of the surf and horizon, like I always am.

I run down to the beach and into the water, which is all at once cold and surprisingly warm. Soft. Surging about my legs, white and clear beige and transparent gray swirling about tan skin. Rule-less. I belong here. I am understood. I am free. The hollow place inside me is known and acknowledged and respected. Unhidden, Given a stern nod of recognition. Felt. Real. Who I am and where I’ve been and what I feel and who I love, validated. I don’t have to explain myself to anyone here. Don’t have to pretend. I just am. Like the ocean.

My bare feet step deeper, farther than the others are willing to go. I spread my arms to the wind, embracing the sea. I stand. I exist. The wind cleans me, takes me out of myself, out of my own head. I smile.

And I can breathe again, breath I didn’t even fully know I couldn’t reach, or that I was deeply missing.