If you’re really lucky, the luckiest anyone could ever hope to be, you’ll have a beach you’ve been visiting since before you could form memories.
You entered the water every year, with all your relatives, feeling invincible not understanding concepts like rips, or currents, or bluebottles, or sharks. You floated atop waves before they broke; you rode a pink boogie board until it was time to come in, you shrieked at seaweed, and sometimes you got dunked.
We grow older, we start to mistrust that we’re always safe when we’re with our parents; we hear that we should swim through and not against a current. Our beach trips become less: our families disperse. Suddenly it’s annual leave instead of school holidays that we look forward to, and four weeks instead of twelve.
And it becomes all the more important to us.
The beach trip becomes a road trip. Listen to a podcast or present a soundtrack to the person in the driver’s seat – or settle in on your own for the journey. Stop for petrol, maybe an ice cream. Pack a bag with a magazine, a towel, sunscreen, your phone, some water, your money.
There’s nowhere to hide in your swimsuit. All the bits you love and despise about yourself are there for everyone to see between your towel and the water. Did you put on enough sunscreen? And recently enough? You’re not as fearless as the laughing little kids, with the flaps on their caps and their flouro rash vests. You cringe a little bit as your feet trudge through the water, when it’s up to your ankles, then your calves, then your knees.
And isn’t it always the way, that you know the fastest way to warmth is to dive under the water with your whole body and all your heart?
The best waves are the ripples that crest before they break and raise you softly. When you can lie on your back in the water and kick your legs, pale and long, and feel like a mermaid nonetheless.
But the water is life.
It knocks you down, and you lose your bearing, forgetting which way is up, not that you could get there if you wanted. You reach your face back up to the air, gulp it back into your lungs, and rub the salt out of your eyes only to open them, and go down again. A set of two or three, reminding you who’s in charge. And that it’s never been you.
Back on the shore, your heart rate steadies, and you stretch out on your towel. Sunscreen on, but did you put on enough? And recently enough?
Feeling the warmth of the sun like it’s giving you a hug, and your cells are soaking up all the vitamin D they’ve missed when you’ve been inside your office.
Returning home, with bright red skin that hurts too much to subject to a hot shower. With skin too crackly to move, then too itchy, then it starts to peel and you feel like a failed adult.
But you’re looking forward to your next trip. Mentally, you’re already there.
With the person who feels like a cool breeze on your sunburn.
Featured image by Libby Goggin