by Kleitia Vaso

I was not born by the sea and, thus, I love it but from a certain distance. It has always been close but never so much as to take it for granted, to indifferently treat it as just another element of the landscape when I’m near it.

My first love was the Adriatic Sea, beautiful but not overwhelming, hence, a good one to start with.

I vaguely remember a few others in between but the next one that comes to mind, not following any  chronological or hierarchical order is the Ionian Sea. The Ionian is overwhelmingly beautiful, even to eyes that have seen it many times, ones that should have grown immune to its effect.

Yet, I’m always struck by it and by my desire – dormant until the sea comes within my view – to turn around and look at it. I’m almost surprised by my own pleasure in smelling it, walking, then running towards it, finally diving into it when I can’t bear staying outside any longer. This imperceptible yearning until the instant of contact resembles the feeling one might experience when seeing a constant but faraway love after a period of separation. Although the impossibility of the story and the rarity of seeing the other have been logically accepted, the adrenaline-charged moment of re-meeting and the heavy but temporary weight of separation never change. Regardless of the time spent apart, the experiencing of the emotion remains the same.

Yet, somewhat differently from a loved one, the most difficult aspect of admiring the sea is that this assumed connection between one and it or rather one’s unrequited love of it has to be shared with countless other admirers. One never knows how much or how little they love it in comparison. It’s not easy being one of many and still persist in being faithful. This fidelity indicates the highest level of devotion, perhaps.

I met just such an admirer last year in what turned out to be a seemingly improbable but highly satisfying friendship. I and this other sea lover, a much younger girl, a teenager, most probably would have never met but our circumstances compelled us, in a sense, to speak to each other. A wide gap of age and experience separated us, yet appearance-wise and temperamentally-speaking we shared something similar with one another. An exchange that initially seemed like a chore turned into an actually pleasant activity and I preferred to talk to her over superficially more similar peers to whom I really had nothing to say. For better or worse, I and the girl shared more similarities than I would have imagined. One thing that we both loved was the sea.

At the end of her vacation, I asked her if she wanted to go back and swim one last time before she left for that year. “No,” she said shyly, “I have already said goodbye to the sea.” “Actually,” she continued, perhaps noticing the lack of surprise in my face, “until last year,” –  implying that a very long time had passed and she was much more immature than now –  “I used to say it out loud: Goodbye, sea, until we meet again next year.” “Now, I do it silently,” she concluded.

“I do the same,” I told her, both glad and sad of sharing something with another person. And, it’s true. I even voice it but far away from the crowd so I’m not perceived as insane, especially by people who are born ready to wag fingers.  Sometimes – but I didn’t tell her – actually, every time I swim for what I expect to be the last time, hoping it isn’t, I drink a big gulp of sea water, hoping that part of it will be mine, will flow in my veins. It’s not a smart or foolproof plan, I know, for both biological and hygienic reasons, but it is an instinctual act. A grain of salt, something is bound to remain.

Actually, its indefinite and constantly shifting green-blue color links us already although the sea doesn’t know and, unfortunately, cannot care. I have a modest drop of it in my face while it, unfairly, is blessed with an immensity. I like to pretend that this color extends to an imperceptible thread connecting us.

This is the Ionian.

The Baltic is a different kind of sea. At first, it looks grayer than a sea should be, impossibly grayish-blue on certain days, especially when the reference point is of a more southern nature. Sneakily, I stole a gulp of it from the shore in a desperate attempt to thwart his eventual cold refusal to let me in; his coldness implying that we are simply not made for one another. Likewise, my love for it cannot be the same as for its predecessor. Yet, it does exist, as an echo of the constant and more deeply-rooted one.

An advantage it has is that it certainly stands closer physically than both the previous ones. I only need to walk for a few minutes and I’m on its shore. And, every day, the moment I step out of the house, whether I have to go in the direction of the sea or not, I instinctively start walking towards it. I wonder, as I approach it, what it will look like in that specific light, time of day, weather. I walk quickly towards it when it’s sunny, I almost ran towards it when it snowed; I constantly wonder what it will look like when it’s sunny, foggy, rainy, colder, warmer, what it looks like when I don’t see it.

One thing is certain: it never looks exactly the same. Some days, it’s gray or silver, even bronze-tinged, others light blue, grayish-blue, a deeper blue, and sometimes I can even detect a green undertone. But, this nuance remains the rarest and most elusive one. Yet, it doesn’t matter. What does is my perpetual curiosity and desire to see it. If that is not falling in love, I don’t know what is.

by Kleitia Vaso