Water Under the Bridge: The Big Wave of Guilt


IMG_2615  Scott Todnem
I have never come close to drowning, but I have swallowed enough water to know the horrible, stopping feeling. Halted, in both decision and movement. Choking on the very compound that gives the universe its unique ability to live.

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been in the ocean. The leading memory being the Pacific while on my first honeymoon. Hawaii. It was while surfing off the coast of Maui in my mid-twenties that I vividly remember being consumed by the water in a sudden, overwhelming spin of a *cough* quite modest wave on a learner’s beach. It was nothing, really, except a good old-fashioned wipeout. Upturned and smacked right in the face like a complete newbie.

Also consuming within that memory was the spinning experience of a new marriage. I remember thinking I’d look back at pictures of the trip for years to come. It made me think about being old; it made me contemplate one of the biggest decisions of my young life. And my mind wandered to its usual level of ridiculousness… with just a hint of premonition.

“I wonder where we’ll live when we’re wrinkly and looking back at these pictures of now. Will I remember driving this Jeep around the island listening to punk rock? If I have kids they’ll probably think my hair was really dark. Will I remember these striped trees that look like candy? I may never be this skinny again. Did I make the right decision in marriage?”


Overall, I remember thinking I was happy. The sun and the surf and, yes, even the sand in the swimsuit. And I think I was happy in my direction in life. But things change. Like the tidal waves of the ocean, things constantly change. In one moment we can be standing on top of life, enjoying the ride and the wind in our hair, and the next moment we can be taken down underneath the world in a plunge of panic.

Funny, isn’t it? Water can be the elixir of life or the overbearing force which takes it.

Such is the mind.

• • •

I don’t know if I can truly forgive and forget.

I try and try and try, and yet something lurks… there, in the depths of my mind, as a muddy swamp monster reminder of the times when someone did me wrong.

That someone? Always me. Myself. The swamp monster reminder is the times when I did wrong to myself.

Quite possibly, the hardest person to forgive in life is oneself. Our self-regard ebbs and flows in second guesses like a river bend.

With other people, generally, I can live and let go. I can build bridges of interactions, and if a bridge is abandoned, the water flows nonetheless. The structure itself still stands if that person so chooses to cross and visit again. And if the bridge is burned completely? That stings. But so be it. In most instances, I try not to be the one holding the match.

I attempt to start each day with a blank slate. A carte blanche. I’m far from perfect, and I figure everyone deserves a new day or a second chance. It’s not always possible, but if I didn’t work to hold this viewpoint I’d be a lousy teacher. I’d be a horrible parent. I’d be a leech to those around me, and that’s not fair living. I’d also be a hypocrite, because I’ve already had another chance. I’ve already had a second start to this life, as is.


A topic I’ve avoided in my writing, on purpose, for years now. It’s been the typhoon I just didn’t want to try and face without shelter. Maybe I didn’t want to mention it out of fear of judgement, maybe I didn’t want to hurt feelings… or maybe I just didn’t want to stir up the muddy swamp monster in my mind.

In a look within, it is difficult to live and let go. It is so drowningly tough to forgive and forget my own doings.

Yet the guilt isn’t in the divorce, really. With all due respect, it was the right decision. More so, the guilt oozes from the circumstances surrounding that time of my life… and how I treated myself. Specifically, that I left myself vulnerable for self-loathing. I treated my own brain in ways that weren’t healthy, and it’s hard to forgive myself for that. Yes, other people were left behind in the wake of my personal actions, and some bridges were lit on my end. But mostly, I resent how open I left myself for unnecessary self-hate. My eyes were once a sunny blue-green match to the water of the ocean, but at that point they had fallen upon the ground, a guilty gaze on rocky land with uneven footing.

The great news is that there is a new wave. A great big wave of positivity, powered by love and support and family and enough velocity to get these eyes looking forward again.

More than that, I’m looking at surfing this massive ocean of daily living, and riding that great big wave all the way to shore. Just gotta get this water moving under the bridge of my thoughts and let positive momentum do the rest.

For Sarah. Thank you for keeping me above water.


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