There is a place in the world to which I will never return. I will never again wish to feel the heat of the sun there, never wish to feel the weight of the air there. Never will I choose to view its blandness, breathe its saltiness. The saltiness of the Salton Sea.
On a regular trip down from Los Angeles to El Centro to visit my grandparents, curiosity got the better of my mother and me. Time after time we had rolled swiftly past the landmark’s dry sign, beckoning tourists into her unnatural, briny lake. On this particular autumn day, we had time to spare, so we lumbered our unwilling sedan off the highway and onto the gritty street.
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And what a sight awaited us! Dusty trailers, rusty wire gates—the locals with faces as harsh and unchanging as the land they lived on. I could feel the sun through the well-baked look in their eyes.
It took us ten minutes to find the shoreline. No one was there but us, us and our conspicuous car—the car that was now parked and waiting for me to exit its cool safety. With icy determination, I donned my sunglasses and leaped out of the car, and was met with… a fish’s empty eye sockets. My determination melted as I stared into the dark abyss that once held the poor fish’s eyes. We stared at each other for a minute, an hour, a year, a century. The fish, it seemed, with its unhinged jaw, was laughing at me. So I laughed back at it. But then I realized that that was horribly rude of me, so I promptly apologized to the poor, desiccated fish, and walked away.
I met up back with my mom on the white shore. She was holding our dog, Miso, who was in the throes of a sensory overload. I didn’t blame her—the stench of the water was unbearable. It turned out that my friend the Eyeless Fish was not the only one of his kind enjoying himself on the gravel; in fact, as I strolled towards my waiting mother, I was greeted by many of his also dry, also dismembered relatives, who made up the welcoming party of the area. Like fine wine and cheese, their perfume grew stronger with age. We strolled parallel to the cloudy water for some time, enjoying the nonexistent breeze and the screeching birds, until we came across an odd sight: a picnic bench stuck crookedly in the shore, being hit consistently with the slow, salty waves. It was an odd sight. Odd, but strangely peaceful. I carefully sat on it, and looking up, I felt like a statue in the dream of an abstract artist. A dream where history and memory are cooked in the hot sun, and consumed by the creeping sea of time. It was peaceful, but left an aftertaste of unease in my mouth.
We left the lake after only 30 minutes, but for me, it was more than enough time to understand the area. The Salton Sea is a strange, unnatural place; it is a place heavy with regrets and salt, an abandoned tourist attraction. As we continued our drive down South to El Centro, I glanced at my mother, and her arms were scattered with goosebumps. The dog sat quietly on my lap. As we mounted the highway, I glanced back at the sign, “Welcome to the Salton Sea.” “The Salton Sea,” I thought, “to which I will never return.”
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