Used to Be Ocean

I said I’d been to a place that used to be the bottom of the ocean but you refused to believe me. “There’s no ‘used to be’ ocean,” you said. “Oceans don’t just disappear. They’re too big to change that much.” Even after I showed you the brochure, you still wouldn’t buy it. I guess somewhere along the line I stopped being believable to you.

“But everything changes,” I said. “Everything used to be something else.” I regretted then having told you before that aliens built the pyramids and Iceland with all its geysers and red rock is actually Mars and the moon landing was faked just like the assassination of JFK. They’re a defense mechanism, these stories, and also I suppose my way of making things fun when otherwise there’d probably just be the boringness of our empty days. Except now there was nothing I could throw out that’d fold you back in—weather, math problems, compass directions, nothing.

So I drove us there, showed you the signs on the highway. At the guard shack, you asked for evidence we wouldn’t drown, that we wouldn’t be crushed under the skyscraping weight of water.

“Babe,” I said, “they made it into a national park.”


Out in the alien landscape, the gray boulders and the tall gray sea walls, you stopped and leaned back against the car and shook your head. You had red hair that day and your skin was pale white and you made that little twist with your nose. There was wind and your skirt floated up and you pressed it back down to your thighs. Your face filled. And I remember thinking you looked like you belonged there at the bottom of the sea. Not that you looked like a fish but maybe like a mermaid or a handsome squid.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” you said. It’s a phrase you’ve been repeating recently and I’ve learned you always bite your lip before you say it. It’s a dead giveaway and while you speak I’m already thinking of ways to make everything make sense to you. Like you’d believe me if I tried.

Though you let me pull you to the ground and I took your hand and pressed it into the sediment. Felt the limestone with our fingertips, felt the otherness of it, the something else that it was once. I think that was the first time in a while I’d seen you smile; still it was different than before, flatter. You’d been keeping your hair longer, too, and there was a period of time when you wouldn’t leave the house without me, when you’d stay a step behind, ride alone in the back seat, in the quiet of it.

It was hot there at the old bottom of the ocean, and so we went into the visitors’ center and learned about how cold it used to be where we’d been standing. There was a dark showroom with neatly typed panels and red buttons that activated a narrator. And we pressed the buttons and learned all about the place, about the Waterpocket, the monocline formed by the deep compressive forces of the Laramide to produce the hundred-mile fold with old rocks exposed to the west and a steep dip of new baby rocks to the east. You gave it all your attention.


That night we were back at our hotel and you were studying the book you’d bought in the gift shop. There was a painting over the bed, one of those motel prints of a seashore in pastels and you laid on the bed in a tee shirt and underwear. Pressed together, your legs were long and finlike. Your skin was burnt from the sun and your red hair was spread out against the white pillowcase. There was something not human about you then, like maybe you were in fact a mermaid or an alien or something else I didn’t know.

And I don’t know if I was angry or sad or if I’d just started to think about how much we hadn’t said to each other, how much of you now I’d had to rewrite in my mind, to make up. But whatever it was, for whatever reason, that’s when I told you how aliens live among us, how they walk around like people, how our whole idea of what it means to be alive is based on it, on this lie, on aliens’ imitation of what humans are supposed to do. And you smiled that flat smile and you closed your eyes and I could tell some part of you was trying hard to believe.  

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