I went home a week or so ago. It had been over 6 weeks since I had been anywhere near the ocean, so I had been waiting, aching, dreaming of the moment when I would be in the water again. And a trip home was long overdue.
I packed the car and headed south but as I drove out of the city, I realised I had forgotten my board. Forgotten! My board! Instead of tied to my roof, it sat on its side in my garage in Paddington – dry and in the way. I could have kicked myself. My other mal has a ding and I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m too unfit to ride the 7’4” in the strong currents that have been running at the points. But there was no going back. I was on the highway and on my way and it would have meant getting stuck in peak-hour traffic, which is always a nightmare. So I sucked it up. I could always borrow a board if I wanted to.
But when I got home, none of that mattered because I didn’t surf. I don’t know why, but I just didn’t feel like it. I felt guilty for not wanting to be straight out there in the waves, but I am so tired and world-weary right now, that surfing seemed too hard. The points were cracking, but surfing there means dealing with rips, crowds and crew - that’s usually fine, but only if you’re feeling up to it - and when I checked the beach behind my house it was wild and breaking way out, with rips and channels etching themselves in the sand. I stood in my swimmers at the bottom of the track, surveying the carnage and pleased I had left the board at home. But the sun was warm and the water looked cool.
A swim will do it, I thought.
I kicked off my sandals into the sea grass, threw my towel and my top into the sand and walked – stripped and pale and vulnerable – into the water.
Calf deep, the current already tugged at my legs trying to suck me out to sea. I laughed at the attempt. This is where I grew up, so I know this game well and have no intention of letting myself get dragged out to sea, floating in the ocean, semi-clad, awaiting rescue by the local surf club. I don’t think so. I stayed in close to shore, waist-deep and sinking myself under the swirling wash. The water was cool and refreshing. Once immersed, I waited for relief from my tiredness and heavy-heart, waited for the salt water to wash it all away...
It didn’t happen.
I came up for air, confused and irritated, sitting with only my eyes and nose above water. The water around me was foamy and green. It was clear, but the surface eddied with bubbles of salt, churned by the waves. With the water swirling and the current dragging my knees along the sand, I felt a wave suck up behind me trying to break on my head. I sank beneath it in time to avoid the impact, but let myself be pulled along in the circling energy below. My hair, my limbs, my skin all tumbled and spun in the waist-deep water – scraped and sandy and limp and broken. I came up with hair in my face, sand on my skin, pulling up my fallen swimmers. Ugh. Not even being dumped in the shore-break could shake me out of this weighty sadness!
I threw myself under a few more waves, then stomped up the beach to my top and my towel, frustrated with this first swim in so long. Why didn’t it make me feel better? Why didn’t I feel cleansed, renewed. Why did I still feel so frantic? I tried to rationalise with myself that it is a little unreasonable to expect to ocean to save me every time.
Come on, Rebecca. Grow up! It’s just one shitty swim. Come again later.
I would come back later, and it would be different, but the ocean has never let me down this way before. It has never left me feeling so bereft, so disappointed, so helpless, so alone. Where else is there to turn if even the salt water can’t comfort me? Where could I turn?
The following days felt better. Time on beach with family and friends made a difference, and made it about more than just me, my headspace and my heart. We shared the beach, the water. Being at the beach with people I love worked wonders, and time in the sun certainly sweetened the previously bitter pill.
Yesterday I sat on a different beach, in a different place and time. I had only been there once previously – for a (now redundant) wedding – so it is not a place that really means anything to me. The sand is yellow and the water is more black than blue, the cliffs and headlands are unfamiliar, and even the waters go under a different name to the warm, white, blue, green, tropical stretches I am so used to. But as I walked the road down the hill and sat on a log in the sand above the water, I felt myself begin to breathe. Slowly, consciously, in and out, in and out. Everything felt right, felt watery, felt oceanic. The friend I sat with broke our silence as we watched an older woman walk to the water on her own and paddle her bodyboard out into the shorebreak,
I wonder if I’ll still be coming to the beach when I’m 70? I hope so.
Everything has its ebb and flow, and I always struggle to accept that, but I know, and I will always know, that I will find a home in sand and salt water.