swallowed in the sea / by laurel

Can you ever know someone fully? Are people like a body of water that you can swim to, dive down, and eventually scrape the bottom with your fingertips before gasping for air at the surface? Or are humans more like an ocean, where you are capable of amassing various bits of knowledge—even extensive amounts—but never able to fully know the craters and crevasses that litter the ocean floor? In the end, are there depths to people where secrets hide like deep sea fish, drifting along and existing in their own private ecosystem?

Can a person be discovered, mapped, charted, and documented? Or are there some things you’ll just never know? I ask this because I realized today, for the first time, that there might exist an unreachable depth to people that you (or I) will never be able to see. This depth could be surprisingly shallow, as in the case of my encounter this morning.

A friend was bustling around the kitchen, filling a water bottle, grabbing her keys, heading for the door. We were chitchatting like friends do, and I asked, simply, “Are you going somewhere?” (because she was freshly scrubbed and chomping at the bit, and one would only assume it wasn’t merely to travel to the living room).

A pause.

Hesitance where there shouldn’t have been any.

“I’m going to the park.” A stilted answer. Eyes shifty. Back turned slightly.

“By yourself?” (I, of course, hadn’t caught on to the shift in social dynamics yet.)


Subject change. Are those your new glasses? Yes. Oh, they’re nice…you saw a movie last night? That’s fun—wait, don’t tell me about it! I don’t want to hear the end!

Scurrying for the door.

Me: “I wasn’t going to tell you the end of—”

Her: “I have to go! Don’t tell me anything! Ah!”

Her voice was loud; too loud. She was dashing for the door in the midst of casual pleasantries. Behavior: sketchy.

Me: “Wait, are you really going to the park by yourself?”

Her (after a long pause): “No…I have to run errands…Ihavetogobye!” Slam.

I returned to my book, but was interrupted by a phone call ten minutes later. She was apologizing profusely. She felt cornered when I asked her where she was going. She claimed pride as the culprit and explained hastily that she hates it when people ask her where she’s going. (Why should I have to tell them where I’m going? It’s my business—why do people even ask? Why do they care? Just let me go!) Perplexed, an apology already forming on my tongue, I was beat to the punch:

“I’m sorry, I’m mean. Forgive me? Promise you’ll forgive me.” She pleaded, her voice crackling over the phone.

I paused, and maybe a sound escaped—not even a word or syllable. Just a sound. She didn’t waste any time.

“I can’t hang up without hearing you say it. Do you forgive me? Please forgive me. I’m so prideful, such a jerk, I’m such a—please forgive me?”

“Yeah…uh, yeah. I forgive you…” The words felt shallow and tasteless leaving my mouth, as though cruise missiles with no ammo and no target. The words just sort of hung there between two points, lynched on phone lines, useless and without purpose. She snapped them up right away.

“Good. Great! Well, I’ll be back later in the afternoon!” Her voice was chippy, staccato against my eardrum. She hung up.

She still never told me where she was going.

I realized then, in the disquieting lull following the conversation that oftentimes my friend goes somewhere deep inside of herself, and I have never known where that was. I don’t use the term “best friend” lightly, but she is close—perhaps the closest person in my life right now—and there is an expectation that as you grow in a friendship (or relationship, or what have you) that you will reach new depths with that person eventually. Discover new things. And likewise, find yourself more fully known.

Today I realized that it might not actually be possible. I felt like I’d been ambushed by a secret everybody knows. The apology, the initial infraction, the entire ordeal; it seemed as though these secret cues had been there all along, like white noise or sonic waves that buzz below our subconscious. Today they became glaringly apparent as I realized that I had, perhaps, exhausted my oxygen supply and would have to surface, defeated, never having seen the ocean floor.

It seems that I had the naïve idea that people want to be known. Apparently that isn’t always the case.

It seems that certain people knew it all along.