Monterey Bay was my parents’ prime vacation spot, and it quickly became mine, as well. I fell in love with its charming yet morose atmosphere. The weather is constantly arrested in a seaside winter, and thick, cloying grey clouds block out the sun. Sailboats as white as ghosts haunt the murky waters whilst colorless locals walk down cannery row hand-in-hand with their children, deeply inhaling the smell of seaweed and oceanic tears. It is obvious from the start that the buildings belong to the sea. Ruins of sandy rotting wood stand beside hotels that bear cold, damp walls and seagull markings.
Nestled in between man’s insignificant structures is an aquarium. Once a sardine cannery, it was converted in 1984 to a marine conservation center. I remember walking through its hallowed halls as a child. I stared into the animals’ clear cages and saw my own image reflected there. My sweatshirt took on a cerulean hue, and my round face, as pale as a fish’s underbelly, seemed alien due to the enclosure’s illuminated currents. The blue waves that danced across my frame looked like war paint or battle scars.
After gawking at the enclosures and their lazy, melancholic inhabitants, my parents liked to escape the midday rush by going out the aquarium’s back door, which led to a massive viewing area of the bay.
The cold wind scratched and snarled. I held onto my mother’s bony hand and huddled inside my layers as we neared the iron railing, a feeble fence should the ocean whip herself into a frenzy.
My father glanced through a telescope and excitedly pointed. There were two wild sea otters in a nearby kelp bed. Won’t I look?
I stood up on the tips of my toes and glanced, one-eyed, into the telescope. It was as he said. Two masses of matted fur drifted aimlessly on the surface of the kelp forest. One might think they were dead if it weren’t for an occasional twitch or yawn.
My gaze roamed. Closer to the aquarium, the water was clear and showcased the sand and rocky outcroppings that separated it from open sea. My childish imagination murmured taunting suggestions to my subconscious.
Imagine if I jumped, if I clawed my way past the algae-covered outcroppings, my scratched green-tipped fingers fighting to embrace the wild. Then, once I was free, I’d dive deep deep down where no one could find me. I’d tangle myself in the slimy arms of kelp beds if I wanted to sleep, just like the otters. I’d eat fish as they passed by and twirl and lounge until I grew sick of it and finally succumbed to the never-ending expanse of blue.
I rapidly blinked once my mother put her hand on my shoulder. Was I ready to go back inside? I could get a snack downstairs.
I followed her hesitantly and tried to memorize the crashing waves, the smell of fish oil, and the dirges of starving birds before the door closed behind me.