By Theresa Weiler
If all goes well and no one gets COVID and our rental car isn’t cancelled and there are no hurricanes, etc., I will be going home this summer.
Home, for me, isn’t necessarily our little brick house in Michigan, or the split-level colonial I grew up in in Northern Virginia, or any other specific address. Rather, I am at home wherever I am in proximity to the ocean.
Any ocean, any continent. If I am close enough to see, hear, or smell the sea, my body and soul comes fully alive.
So I am looking forward to a week by the ocean to soothe my frazzled spirit.
My mother tells me that there is something scientifically special about being near the ocean…something about the negative ions in the air. I know that the rhythm of the waves and stimulation of the noise does something lovely to my own brain waves. I crave that feeling. I can live landlocked for a while, but after a year or two away from the sea I end up feeling muffled, like I’m wearing extra layers around my psyche. I will never be as awake and alert and present as I am when I return to the source. My ancestors were born, lived, and died near the sea. I will always belong there.
Is it just me, or does everyone choose semi-arbitrary points in their personal history to indicate mystical turning points? Because one of mine takes place on another beach trip, seven years ago.
Every couple of years, my parents host a family beach week. They rent a house, and my siblings and I, along with our spouses and children, descend upon it for a week of loud meals, lazy afternoons, sandy toes, and sunburns. That particular year, 2015, I arrived in a chaotic state of mind. At home, a scandal had broken among our close Catholic friends—one of those awful situations where layers of deception are suddenly exposed, like an open wound—and I was beginning to question my own sense of reality.
Meanwhile, I had driven on my own from Detroit to North Carolina with an eight-year old, a six-year old, and a nearly-two year old. Ron had to work and would fly to join us later. It’s a hell of a drive with kids, and crossing the border from Maryland to Virginia, I noticed the prickle of a rash beginning to erupt under my arm and along my side. Ouch. Naturally, I assumed I had encountered poison ivy…and it had somehow found its way under my bra?I don’t know what I was thinking. In any case, I was itchy in mind and itchy in body.
After we arrived, I visited an urgent care near our rental, and the nurse confirmed that yes, it must be poison ivy. She shot me full of prednisone, which, combined with my existing stress, triggered a manic episode during which I acted like a complete loon, ruined board game night, and made my sister cry. It was a wild week.
Right in the middle of it, though, I did something fun, just for me.
See, up to this point I had had a great year. My career was in a fantastic place after a recent promotion. My husband and I had weathered a job loss a couple of years before, and we felt like we were finally on stable ground. My older two children had received their First Communions that spring, and our long hoped-for third baby was as easy and happy as a baby could be. My mental and physical health, especially, were in top shape. I had taken up running post-pregnancy, and had spent that spring and summer running 5ks, in the hopes of completing a 10k in the fall.
To that end, I signed up for a beachfront 5k. I wanted to know how it felt, to be running in all those beautiful negative ions, feeling that magic ocean energy.
The morning of the run I dragged myself out of bed at the crack of dawn and smothered my (now painful) rash under a jogging bra. I smeared myself head to toe with sunscreen, grabbed my running shoes, and headed for the beach. It was a glittery, golden morning, and the sun was already over the horizon by the time I reached the starting line. There was only a moderate crowd of runners, and when the starter blasted his air horn, we whooped and galloped off: the young and athletic bounding ahead, the seniors and walkers trotting behind, and me, the thirty-something mom, falling somewhere in the middle.
I hadn’t done much running on sand and my time was nothing spectacular. It didn’t matter. I snapped a smiling selfie at the finish line and soaked my feet in the chilly surf, exhilarated from the run.
That picture was my facebook profile photo for a few months, and even now I look at it and smile ruefully…
Look at you. You have no idea. You’re pregnant again.
Oh, and it’s not poison ivy, you dunce. You have shingles. Yeah, that’s right, you are hella pregnant, your support system back home is imploding, you have stressed yourself out so much you woke up the chicken pox, and guess what, bitch? It’s only the beginning.
Oh, we have fun, 2015 Theresa and I.
I don’t want to get too deep into what the last seven years have been for me, but I can tell you some of where I am now, versus where I was the day of that run.
Our group of close Catholic friends was unable to recover from the blow of the initial scandal. We drifted, and eventually went our separate ways. Still, after some lonely years, Ron and I were able to cultivate new friends…not a tight little group anymore, but a chaotic crew of unique and diverse and surprising individuals who have supported us in every way we needed.
Soon after that summer, our older children began to struggle, and both underwent mental health crises in the years that followed. There were some very low lows, and too many scary nights, but they have both made amazing progress since, and are now relatively stable, quirky, fascinating teenagers.
Our two youngest children have been the sunshine of every day since the little embryo that rode with me on that sandy run was born wide-eyed into the world. On the darkest days, both of those little girls gave us something pure and beautiful to believe in.
That promotion I was so proud of, though long worked-for and well-deserved, was the beginning of the end of my teaching career. By 2019, the combination of job stress and family stress became untenable, and I had to move on from the speech and theater program I had been building for fifteen years. Now I’m doing…things like this. I’m writing more, I’m singing more, and I’m open to opportunities. I miss my students, I miss feeling “successful,” but at least I have room to breathe. It’s enough, for now.
Between the election of 2016 and the pandemic of 2020, the 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report and the 2022 Dobbs vs. Jackson decision, I have spent seven years deconstructing my entire sense of spiritual and social reality. In the terms of Sick Pilgrim’s upcoming “Imagine” series, the “Tower” I had built out of religious and political ideology was destined to burn.
Nevertheless, and only very recently, I have felt the beginnings of spiritual peace. With great effort I have pulled the strongest beams, justice and mercy, out of the conflagration. I am nearly ready to begin constructing something new.
So now, in the name of “something new,” I am going back. As soon as I close this document, I am clicking over to a new link, and there I will register for another beachfront 5k, almost seven years to the day since the last one.
So what if I am carrying twenty pounds of pandemic weight on top of the ten-pound “Trump tire” that refuses to budge? So what if my training schedule is nonexistent and my mile time is minutes longer than it was back then? So what? At least this time I won’t be pregnant, with shingles, flying high on prednisone.
Yes indeed, this lady is going home. Back to the beginning. Back to the water and the salt and the sun, and when I get there I am going to run and run and run, until my lungs are on fire and my skin is tingling and my legs are rubber, and when I finally stop, I will feel that every square inch of my 43-year old body is alive.
I am alive. I am changed, but I am standing. After the inferno, I remain. I am the tower, and I will not be consumed.
Then, with my feet in the surf and my face to the sun, I will close this cycle with love and gratitude, and I will watch something new rise up over the blue horizon.
Theresa Weiler is a writer, singer, speaker, seeker. She lives in the Detroit suburbs with her husband and four children. Follow Theresa on Twitter @SometimesReese and on Instagram @realtheresaweiler.