The Young Married Man and the Sea


My wife woke up on the first morning of our honeymoon, turned to my

side of the bed, and I was gone.

That’s what they call a sign.

We were staying at an inn on the Mendocino coast.  It was a romantic

Victorian pile, perched on a cliff a hundred yards above a rocky

beach.  Our room—the Honeymoon Suite—overlooked the beach and

thousands of miles of ocean.

The bed was massive.  It was the very same bed used in the movie

Wuthering Heights.  I know that because there was picture of the bed

in the brochure that pointed out the fact, and the owner told us that

when we checked in, and a sign in the room proclaimed that where we

were about to lie down,  Lawrence Olivier already had.

Nomi slept late the next morning.  She awoke, where Lawrence Olivier

once did, to see that I was gone.  She called to the bathroom: gone.

She followed the sound of the crashing surf to the window, swung it

open, and looked far out at the horizon, at the endless expanse of

ocean, at the rugged, rock-strewn beach.

And at me.

“ROB?” she called down, then:  “ROB!”

When I turned to look up, a string of seaweed was hanging from my mouth.

“What are you doing?”

I was chewing seaweed.

Eating seaweed fascinated me.  It still does. I just never bothered to

tell Naomi that fact in our ten months of courtship and engagement.  And

she had never thought to ask, “By the way, do you have a seaweed

obsession?”

Sometime before our wedding, in anticipation of our honeymoon on the

Mendocino coast, I’d bought a small pamphlet, “Edible Seaweeds of the

Pacific Coast.”  It featured line-drawings and hand-lettering.  I

studied up before our trip, but there is nothing like carrying your

field guide into the field.

I woke up while Naomi was still fast asleep. Was it a bad omen to duck

out of our marital bed on the first morning of our honeymoon?  Well, I

figured, we spent the first night after our wedding at the Beverly

Hills Hotel, in the same room my parents had spent their wedding

night, and where my sister and brother had spent their first nights.

So technically this was our second married morning. And if that hotel

room worked for us like it did for my parents and siblings—70 married

years among them, at that point (and still going strong)—I didn’t have

to ration out the mornings so carefully.

Besides, it was low tide.

I slipped out of Lawrence Olivier’s side of the bed, pulled on my

shorts and a T-shirt, and grabbed the pamphlet. I followed a steep

path down to the beach, where seaweeds swirled and tangled among the

newly-exposed rocks. Just a few feet away, an otter head broke the

surface, and I swear his black marble eyes looked at me

coldly—Dude, you’re eating my salad.

I was.  I started with dulse, a wispy greenish brown leaf that floated

like the billow of a jellyfish against my calf. I compared it with the

picture in the book, lifted it pre-washed and pre-salted, and let it

slide down my throat.  It was as slick and bracing as an oyster.

Yum.

Hijiki was next: dark russet strands that my guide described as chewy

and high in iron. I plucked one from its anchor in a nearby rock and

sucked it down, chewing on it like a piece of al dente pasta. It was

halfway down my mouth when I heard Naomi call.

“Rob, what are you doing?”

She looked beautiful.  The early sunlight. Her face framed in the

window of a romantic Victorian.  And this is what she saw: her new

husband, a gash opened up on his stark white calf, blood seeping into

the roiling water, his old army surplus shorts soaked through, his T-shirt

weighted down with water and stuck to his spindly chest, and something

black and stringy hanging from his mouth—a rat tail? A braid?

“Rob! What are you doing!?”

I thought of that scene in Wuthering Heights where Cathy despairs of

the man she truly loves:

“I shouldn’t talk to you at all,” she cries. “Look at you! You get worse every day.

Dirty and unkempt and in rags. Why aren’t you a man? Why aren’t you my

prince like we said long ago? Why can’t you rescue me, Heathcliff?”

But Naomi didn’t despair. She wasn’t even angry that I’d slipped out

of bed, or that I spent the second morning of our married life up to

my waist in seawater, scavenging for seaweed.

“Did you know,” I told her later, “there is no such thing as poisonous

seaweed? Every kind of seaweed is edible.”

Many years later, after the sushi craze hit big, after we’d had

umpteen bowls of miso soup with tofu and seaweed, after our daughter

Noa decided that the crispy nori seaweed at Whole Foods was her

favorite snack, Naomi must have realized I wasn’t so crazy, maybe I

was even a little prescient, the way I’d be with the backyard

chickens, the front lawn I ripped out to make way for a crop of

artichokes, the yerba mate I took to drinking long before it became

popular (okay, the last one hasn’t exactly caught on, but mark my

words).

I suppose, looking out that window, Naomi could have thought that she

really didn’t know this guy after all—wet, and bloody, and eating

seaweed.  But she chose not to assume the worst.  She listened to my

explanation, once I had come in and dried off and bandaged up.  She

listened some more as I read the descriptions from the book, though I

knew then and know now that there’s a part of her that wishes I’d be

the kind of guy to study Torah with her, not sea vegetables.

If I were strange, Naomi figured, I was strange in a way she could

recognize, if not exactly relate to: Naomi the wife might be appalled,

but Naomi the rabbi recognized religious fervor when she saw it. 

Because only two types of people go down to the sea in their clothes: those who

want to drown themselves, and those who want to be baptized. Naomi the

rabbi recognized a true believer when she saw one, and she could

appreciate it.  She was one too, after all. Her faith was in God—but

the joy on her face in synagogue mirrored the joy on mine that

morning at sea.

She hadn’t found a freak, she’d found a soulmate.

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