Swimming In The Desert

I have been in a desert.

I was in the desert for a long time. I didn’t intentionally go into the desert. The border of the desert is quite deceptive and I didn’t realise I was in it for a while but I spent years there.

The longer I was in the desert, the further I got from the edge. I got further from people, from security, from safety. I couldn’t even see the edge of the desert after a while. Then I stopped believing in the edge or that a way out of the desert was even there for me.

It was an strange desert because it did have water. Chlorinated water, salt water. I plunged myself into that water to keep myself sane or alive, while I endured the desert. The only time I felt like I might survive the desert, was when I was in that water, even further from people, from security, from safety. Only there, only in conditions that terrify most people, am I safe.

Eventually, I lost sight of almost everything, except the desert. All that was left and visible was blasted. Sometimes I saw smudged shapes of people in the distance but I couldn’t make myself heard. Eventually I lost my voice from my silent shouting. But at least I had one companion, one other person, both of us, out in the desert.

Sometimes I found rocks. Under the rocks were the words of the people I couldn’t see. Messages from the edge I could no longer see or hope to ever find again.

Sometimes the words on the rocks had been written by people who had left the desert, messages intended to be hopeful. They weren’t. Because I was still in the desert, and I knew there were no roads, no help. The words from those who had left the desert meant little to me, except that they at least also understood the existence of the desert.

The desert was everything. The desert, me, my companion, the useless dangerous life-saving water and no way out.

I rarely found words under rocks from other people who were still in the desert. The lost ones in the desert are rarely heard. Lost and voiceless. Why talk when there is no-one to hear.

I wandered aimlessly. I lost the last worst thing to lose. I don’t what it was, but I felt it leave.

I left my own words on rocks. But they included lies of omission. Because they never told the full truth. I tried. I tried many times during the years and each time the written words were different because they were always full of exact detail and therefore always wrong.

I needed the words of the desert and words of the water, of why I sometimes swim in the water, of why my eyes are always full of the horizon. I always said I wanted to write everything about my swimming life. But to do so was impossible. Because I had to write about the desert, which is sometimes a fire or a sea or sometimes a wasteland or, or, or.

And then I found a rock, left for me. The words helped briefly, and pointed me, long after all hope and hope of hope was lost, to an oasis.

And my companion and I, we stumbled to the oasis. We felt the flowers bloom as we approached the oasis.

Now we at the oasis.

But the oasis is still in that impossible desert. And the oasis has a monster. I don’t know if I brought the monster with me. I don’t even know if the real monster is me. The oasis is as bad or worse in a different way than the desert around it. The oasis is of the desert. In the desert. The desert surrounds it.

I still don’t know where the edge of the desert is. I don’t know if there any words left to put on the rocks but I know I don’t know how to get out of the desert.

And the oasis is shrinking.

This is the desert. Here is my rock. These are my words.

Grey winter horizon in the ocean


14 thoughts on “Swimming In The Desert

  1. Pingback: It Takes An Ocean Not To Break | LoneSwimmer

  2. It is not easy to write of such loneliness, heartbreak and confusion. I did not know I was in a desert until I saw your words. They give me hope.
    A kindred spirit.


    • Very kind of you Genevieve. Given the choice between this and the “foot” poem, for myself there is no comparison. This took two years to write and publish after various forms and attempts, the other took 10 minutes.


  3. Pingback: Something orange for World Suicide Prevention Day | LoneSwimmer

  4. ”The edge of the sea is a strange and beautiful place. All through the long history of Earth it has been an area of unrest where waves have broken heavily against the land, where the tides have pressed forward over the continents, receded, and then returned. For no two successive days is the shoreline precisely the same. Not only do the tides advance and retreat in their eternal rhythms, but the level of the sea is never at rest. It rises or falls as the glaciers melt or grow, as the floor of the deep ocean basins shifts under the increasing load of sediments, or as the earth’s crust along the continental margins warps up and down in adjustment to strain and tension. Today a little more land may belong to the sea, tomorrow a little less. Always the edge of the sea remains an elusive and indefinable boundary.” The Edge of The Sea – Rachel Carson

    Donal thank you for this post. It has been read and reread over the past number of days.


  5. Donal, I was only thinking of you yesterday morning as I gazed at the ‘harp’ in Garrarus. Hope you find music, poetry and solace wherever you are.
    Hauntingly beautiful writing.


  6. “A ghost of aviation
    She was swallowed by the sky
    Or by the sea like me she had a dream to fly”
    (Amelia, by Joni Mitchell.)
    Tom Waits might have sufficed (“Never saw my hometown ’til I stayed away too long”). Or a sneaky reference to Zen (and the Art of Open Water Swimming).
    However, if you follow Amelia’s flight path, you would cross over that boundary, and we would miss your wonderful writing. So check out the shore every now and again. It’s not too horrendous a place… Or, at every least, without a shore we cannot have a sea.


  7. I feel safe in that loneliness is the real loneliness of life, where I must stand. After the swim I return to a place where I not belong, where I´m someone. There I´m Nothing. The one with water.Empttiness- Fullnees are both one.
    Nice to be there


  8. Thank you very much for this wonderful post. I have not read anything as honest as this in a long long time. I wish you well….


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