My origin is sand. My origin is the smell of sunscreen drying on the long drive home. My origin is the waves you hear as you lie down that night, the pillow cold on your face, your cheeks bright and flush from the day’s sun. My origin is unmelted particles of glass.
My origin is Mississippi. I live inland now. I’ve been away some years. I’ve been plotting a sealess escape since I came here: there are no oceans here to steal away to when the end comes. I plot my escape by side roads. There are ways to flee on foot, by car, by bicycle. There are ways with friends, there are ways alone. In each of them, I head to the sea.
In Mississippi there are easy escapes. One drives north. One flees Katrina. One stays with family.
There are also other escapes. One drives hard to the shoulder when a tanker flips on the interstate. One locks the doors while waiting for the light to change outside the Hard Rock’s parking garage. One brings pepper spray for the men who carry tire irons and shout I’ll wipe that smile right off your face, faggot.
In those early days after Katrina, my mother was told by the doctors at her hospital to escape. Cholera is coming soon. This is the opposite of Christ is coming soon. Go north. Stay north. The land beside the sea is faltering.
Everywhere the land is faltering. We are a listless burden on the edges of the earth. We stand on the shore when the storm has passed and look out into the water, waiting for another one to come. We are gathered in a single place, despite the warnings. We have been told to disperse.
In April at fourteen I skipped Sunday school and walked downtown, the sidewalk covered with shade from the live oaks, bees humming in the azaleas. I was unhappy. I wore the watch my grandfather gave me and knew when to meet my mother before the service. I walked slowly on the gravel driveway. Every escape must have its plan.
A friend’s father asked me another day in Sunday school to wash his son’s feet and I refused. He looked at me sadly. Even our Lord washed the feet of another. I am not the Lord, I learned.
Years later I drove past what had been a pier. Except the what-had-been-a-pier was only rocks and water: as if the surf and shoreline hadn’t cared about that place. It was strange, in truth. That pier was the first place I’d felt a boy’s hand on my own, or at least a boy’s hand that had wanted to touch my own. It was on the third plank back from the edge, that edge that jutted far into the sea, our hands not clasping, our hands not holding each other, only touching: my hand splayed behind me as I leaned back on my arms, my knuckles white, his hand behind him too, his fingers softly touching mine. If they had told me the pier would be torn up and tossed across the highway, I would have gone there first. I would have taken that plank and brought it home with me. Wood floats, after all. I could have held it when the waters came and then we would have floated to the surface. His hand like a ghost on my own, my arms reaching all around the plank while the sea rushed in and tore my house away.
Yes, my house was torn away. Yes, my things were washed away. My mother spoke to me in confusion: Now where will I get a couch? You see, in those early days all the couches had been flooded. There it is: no one for twenty miles had a usable couch. What is society without a couch? We were no society then. We were wandering expressions.