Photos Manu Gupta
Styling Eryka Clayton
Art direction Tommaso Nicolao
Digital artist Cristian Girotto
Hair Miki Kaneko
Models Sara Donovan & Cameron Newbill @New York Model Management
We believed we had dispensed with playing with fire. It was the ocean, after all. It was the morning, and it would never grow dark. We were women in love with the water and what we’d become a part of together. We would only ever float.
We were on the lamb from them for the crimes, our crimes against how it was. There would be no consequences. We decided that.
The boat pushed off the dock into the spread of horizon. So many times, so many ways we had been told we’d never arrive. Principals and convenience store bosses with explanations they claimed were common sense said we’d never get there. Parents told us here is always where you end up. But lay back, and there was my friend, a Nicole or Eleanor or Drew, and wasn’t she reclining on the edge of the sky, even as her feet were wet with ship deck water? I could see her hair rooted in the big, open blue.
I licked my lips and threw away the map. When I closed my eyes, I could dream a compass. They’d always give me that, even the people who didn’t believe in us, that I had direction. Sometimes it was an insult in their mouths, and I didn’t care with all the North Star in my eye.
Beneath us, fish breathed and we could see the ocean boil a thick trail from behind the boat, signing our path, and our name was women. We were signified in the sea by our own departure from the way things were.
“They say there is a ceiling, clear but thick as wall along the way,” Drew said.
“We have ropes,” I said. “We know the knots.”
It was a knowledge beyond dictionaries, though to be sure, there was meaning. We had learned to fasten, the solidarity of looping together, and as children, we had pushed off knobs of trees as we stepped into the leaves. We’d studied speed, how a nautical mile divided by an hour was too slow for the disasters of the status quo. We wanted speed, to leave progress in the dust. With every mist of seaspray, our faces raised to the sun, opened by preemptive nostalgia.
Once we needed to fight, we imagined we’d say. And we’d say we defied increments. We never looked to each other and said, “Go big, or.” We said, “Go big.”
Eleanor was the climber. She scaled and wanted us to join. There was generosity to her altitude. Her hand reached. She did not want to be the exception. She did not want to be someone we didn’t catch up to, someone who monopolized the vista.
“Come into up here,” she screamed, pointing everywhere north.
I licked my lips and threw away the map.
When I closed my eyes, I could dream a compass.
The ascendance took amongst us, a concept that brought us to the blue out of which ideas come. We had the wind wrapped up in our hair. We gave shape to breeze, a form like wrinkled sails. In this way, we colored the weather. We were sure that much less was nature than the others would have us believe. The uncharted was nothing to do with molecules or genetics, hormones or pH balance; we would not need to reverse the science, only our minds.
“What if,” I said.
“What if,” we said. And, “It could be.”
We could not forget that on land, we had escaped many fires. They ate up home and work, school and clinics and nightclubs. The fires were on sticks in the hands of men, or they were charring lines and people were afraid to cross, and we could not forget the ghosts with their hanging limbs and long hair who had burned for us. But I saw the ocean close around where we were until it was black and done as the past, a speck to leave.
Nicole went down to the belly. It was a basement on water, and her sea-legs were strong. As long as I’d known her, I’d loved to watch her lift heavy things, to heave a piece of furniture or move a fallen branch. The game on the water became that she would lug us on her shoulders, run and scream. In her eloquent carrying, we became feathers brighter than those of a male bird.
It was Drew who first noticed the graying, the grumping of the sky. The blue gave way. Clouds drooped. These were not cirrus. They were storm clouds. We had the same idea. That lightning was fire meant the possibility of a wildfire in the sea.
“Where can we go without weather?” Drew said.
We gathered the hose, thick lengths white in our hands. You decide to take on the world, and always it begins in finding which end is the beginning of the thread that will mend. What we did, it was knitting or it was cat’s cradle, looping and passing, a game of hands, crafting bird’s nests on the deck. It was women’s work, this difficult sailing.
We had water on our side.
Water is persistent. There is the same amount of water now as when the Earth was born. You can count on it. Everywhere there is water, there is life. It is strong enough to hold a barge or a log raft, and it is so much of us. So much of us is strong. We thought of this fact, the water strength of us, the whole time.
There were wobbles. There were moments of toss and loss of balance with the ocean churning beneath us. Drew asked if it wouldn’t be safer if we went halfway back.
“Will lightning forgive us if we take a smaller distance?” It was a joke, of course. We knew all the way was all that was just enough.
Eleanor climbed and I directed an ecstasy of water through a cannon. Drew spun the wheel until the hose fought our fight. Nicole told us we would not anchor, and it wasn’t an order; it was our happy decision, chanted, the words making real who we were, women who were free.
We urged the boat forward. Algae smashed up in the spray at the bow, firecrackers of plant life. A cloud burst open, rended by a pop of sun. We drew toward the horizon together. Together we were pioneers almost where we’d never been. And we would arrive.