May 2013 - Comments Off

Sediment

Anna P. Rogovoy '13

For six weeks I carried the unopened envelope with me, from the Israel-Syria border in the Golan Heights to the foot of the Dead Sea, from the Western Wall in Jerusalem to the brilliantly loud Carmel Market in Tel Aviv. I kept it in the hidden pocket at the back of my notebook. I forgot it was there.

I had packed my bags so scrupulously that bringing the envelope seemed an unpardonable luxury. I brought only black clothes so that dirt would not show and assembling outfits would be easy; I did laundry in the bathtub every week. My only indulgences, three books of poetry, sat mostly untouched at my bedside. I was in Israel to study dance and spent most of the time that I was not in class wandering around Tel Aviv. The date of my return flight crept up impossibly quickly until I injured my knee and skipped class on the eve of my departure to slowly explore.

I wandered alone through the neighborhoods of Neve Tzedek and Lev HaIr, pausing to photograph the fountain outside Independence Hall and the patches of graffiti in Hebrew I’d admired on my daily walk to class. My dusty leather boots clicked down Rehov Daniel as I followed the sun on its nosedive into the Mediterranean, the din of the artisan’s market on Nachalat Binyamin buffeting me gently forward. Back in my apartment my small suitcase was tightly packed with gifts and my belongings, and the number for a cab company to take me to the airport in the morning was scrawled on a post-it note on the kitchen table.

The shoreline was peppered with sunset-gazers: black hats, young couples, businessmen unbuttoning their wool jackets. A thickset black and white cat turned his back to the horizon and watched me as I approached a rocky outcrop. I murmured nondescript prayers for the safety of my family, stepping up onto a low boulder. This habit of prayer had begun after I visited the Western Wall and experienced a release of deep tension while pressing my forehead to the stone, awkwardly whispering pleas for divine intervention in what then seemed to be an insurmountable mourning. The cat blinked lazily as I snapped a picture of him before turning to the water.

The Mediterranean Sea has an average depth of 4,900 feet and the deepest recorded point is 17,280 feet in the Calypso Deep. It covers an approximate area of 965,000 square miles, but its connection to the Atlantic (the Strait of Gibraltar) is only 8.7 miles wide. Twenty-three states have a coastline on the Mediterranean Sea. On February 12, 2013 at 3:30, an earthquake that measured 2.8 on the Richter scale occurred in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Two hours later, the sun was setting while I watched, and the waves had calmed.

I did not remember putting the notebook into my bag but as I turned to leave I felt it bump against my hip. Without thinking I took it out and turned to the very end, where only a few blank pages remained. I planned to finish the notebook on the flight back to New York, which seemed a fitting capstone. I drew from the hidden pocket the small envelope and tore the seal open.

The ring had come to me through the mail, in a small box inside a padded envelope inside a medium box inside a big box. It stood for an engagement that was already agreed upon and there was no ceremony involved in its acquisition, just trembling hands that held my trembling hands in my room at Bennington and unwrapped absurd packaging to reveal what I had chosen myself and paid for myself. I wore it for a few months, admiring my own taste. Unfortunately, the ring suited me better than the proposed future it bound me to. I hung it from a string around my neck for several weeks after removing it, as if to wean myself slowly from its allure, but before long took it off entirely.

Two weeks after I had taken off the ring, I discovered a quarry. I was in residence with a dance company at a festival in Western Massachusetts and due to the minimal rehearsal schedule and stifling July heat, my colleagues and I spent most mornings flinging ourselves into this still water. Along the path leading to the quarry were a selection of rusted-out old cars and we presumed that there must be more hidden beneath depths where our lungs could not reach. I remembered a drowned squirrel I’d found in my wading pool as a child and knew there must be skeletons nestled into steering wheels, perhaps an ursine skull tucked under an aqueous glove compartment. I left the ring inside my boot and floated into nooks and crannies around the edge of the basin, turning over onto my back to stare up at the stone ceiling. I felt the pull of distance below me but relinquished nothing; my loss was still too fresh to compound.

The artifacts we imbue with our love and desire are worth no more than the feelings themselves. They are pieces of earth molded into significant forms, beautiful and rare, but their value is ultimately sentimental. Supply and demand, limited resources; no economic principle explains the simmering glow of adoration or the searing agony of heartbreak, just as there is no logical reason why a wispy-thin silver band worn on my left ring finger for a matter of months came to feel like a Sisyphean boulder. There did not seem to be an obvious answer to the question of what to do with the ring, since it had not been given to me so much as permitted me and therefore there was no one to whom I might have returned it. I took up the task of carrying it wherever I went in case an opportunity presented itself through which I might be rid of it.

Crumpling the envelope into my pocket, I held the ring out towards the water between my thumb and forefinger. I peered through it, imagining that I could see in this tiny frame a glimpse of the life I had decided was not for me. Then I wound up and threw it as far as I could.

The Mediterranean Sea is considered a small-scale ocean with high environmental variability and steep physicochemical gradients within a relatively restricted region, with salinity, temperature, stratification and alkalinity all increasing towards the east. Acidification is an additional pressure on Mediterranean Sea ecosystems, already suffering from overfishing, increasing sea surface temperatures, and invasions of alien species. With their relatively short residence times, Mediterranean Sea deep waters are likely to lag changes in surface waters by a few decades at most. What I think this means is that an object that rests at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea will be jostled around more often than it might in a different ocean, and also that it will be eaten away by acid.

Months have passed since I turned my back on the sea and let it devour the bond of a relationship that I do not miss. Mine is not the last ring it has taken. I believe beyond the shadow of a doubt that among the sediment and refuse that prevented my ancestors from eating the animals that dwell on the ocean floor, there are fields of diamonds, relics from thousands of men and women who awoke one day and thought, this cannot go on. I am certain that at the very moment that I was drawing back my shoulder for a mighty pitch, somewhere along the shore, someone else was doing the same. I imagine that at the bottom of every body of water, there is a layer of grief.

A week after I left Israel there was another, larger earthquake in the Mediterranean, one that I imagine might have cleaved the earth beneath my little ring and pulled it even further out of reach. Now and then I still feel it on me like a ghostly caress and I catch myself reflexively reaching to touch it with my other hand. I like to think of it being slowly pulled down through the ocean floor, into rock and lava. I imagine great, romantic adventures for it, a fantastic love that lasts for a thousand years, burning away at the core of the world.

Published by: in Prose, Volume 69, Volume 69: Issue 2

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