Time passed, I became pregnant. As my due date approached, I informed him we’d be staying in the city for the remainder of my pregnancy. “Remember, mommies and daddies, your first labor takes a while,” he rebutted, imitating our prenatal class instructor.
“Pardon me,” I said, trying out my gentlest, most maternal voice, “if I rather not have contractions while stuck in traffic on the L.I.E.!”
“That wouldn’t happen, Sweetie,” he said, placing his hand on mine. “We will ride in the HOV lane.”
Our son was born during one of New York’s coldest, snowiest winters. My husband treasured our new addition while simultaneously mourning the interruption of weekend surf. “I don’t see why we can’t go out east,” he protested. “You can do the same stuff with him out there,” he coaxed innocently. I glared at him through sleep-deprived eyes as I flapped my spit-up soaked shirt. “I. Am. Not. Going. Anywhere. And neither are you.” But after a brief hiatus, our routine resumed, and now there was no he goes his way, I go mine.
To ease the commute to and fromLong Island, my husband bought a new car. Gas mileage, safety ratings, price, those were factors. But a four-wheel drive is what he sought, so he could plow onto the beach in winter, slip into his wetsuit, and return later to a toasty truck.
“Great ride, right?” he asked as we bounced over potholes on the Grand Central Parkway. In the backseat with our infant, I made faces, hummed songs and tried not to throw up. “It’s ree-allly bum-pee,” I said, eyeing the car seat jiggling in its cradle. “And it smells.” As SUV drivers we had no trunk, and though his wetsuit was not aboard, its briny scent lingered in the air.
After one too many times breastfeeding over the car seat, I’d had it. I was exhausted from flinging ourselves back and forth with our son and his paraphernalia every weekend. When I brought it up, he maintained I didn’t appreciate all we had.
“Do you know how many moms would love to give their kids a break from the heat and pollution of the city?” When my husband feels unhinged from our exchanges, he attacks my obsession with all things urban, my evident love of filth and soot and air unqualified for breathing. He calls me anti-nature. It hurts when he goes on like this. Not just because I feel misunderstood, but because after all of these years, we are still arguing about the same thing.
“Just go yourself,” I said, defeated. And he did, claiming he needed just a night here and there. But soon the trips were coming faster, more last minute. They are less than twenty-four hours in duration, but frequent. I’m on edge, always anticipating his departure. I’m angry when he chooses the ocean over us, and simultaneously petrified the water will overtake him and he won’t return.
I deeply admire my husband’s attachment to the ocean, his persevering strength and intimacy with the sea. When I watch him straddling his board waiting for a wave—my dot on the horizon—I am proud. But unlike his feelings for me, he appears to love the ocean unconditionally. It’s true he’s known it for longer, and even after nine years together, can navigate its shape and temperament better than mine. He negotiates the third jetty at Georgica with skill and knows when to surrender to a rising wave so as not to get swallowed by its force. He’s yet to learn that with me.
Am I jealous to view the ocean as a mistress? How could something so beautiful be the source of conflict?
To understand what drives him, I take a Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) yoga class at Shagwong Marina inEast Hampton. We begin paddling on our knees, against the current. We are instructed to rise once we feel steady, and when I do, I am overcome. With the board leash secured snuggly around my right ankle, I am suddenly channeling my husband, feeling that rush he describes of gliding, walking atop the water.
Once across the bay, we tether our paddles and begin the practice. Asymmetrical postures demand the most balance, and I fall into the water repeatedly. But when I climb back onto the board, the sun is there to warm me. As we move through the poses, we drift back to shore. By the time we are in final rest on our backs, our bodies listing in the wakes of nearby boats, we’ve returned to where we began.