In my childhood I spent practically every day during summer at the sea, in the sea, walking by the sea. There was barely a day that went by where I wasn’t drawn into its murky depths.
‘Sometimes Eve, I swear water runs through your veins,’ my Mum would announce each summer. This was always accompanied by my Dad’s wry answer ‘blood is made of water Alicia’. He would precede said statement with the face he pulls every time he tries to make a joke. One eyebrow slightly higher than the other, his mouth taut with the pretence of being serious. We would laugh obligingly.
She would pretend not to smile and continue with the story about my baptism, where the priest tried to dunk me, whole body, into the baptism font. She always stopped at this point for dramatic effect, looked you straight in the eyes and declared ‘In the middle of January!’ There was always a pause to give time for an appropriate reaction, and then there would be a discussion on why the priest thought that would be a good idea, usually resulting with the conclusion by my brother that he got a fright when he saw my face.
My mother is exceptional at making any banal story sound exciting, to the point that I would overhear one I told her myself and not even realise. Technically, it would be the same, but it would be like comparing a Michael Bay movie to a documentary on worms. She would add drama, intrigue, a character which was either hilarious, idiotic or heroic. My own persona in these stories would flit, depending on her mood, my actions or her audience.
I had never been scared of the sea, or in fact, scared of much at all. My competitiveness at times spilled over into idiocy because I was always determined to win, never thinking of the consequences. This was always exacerbated when at the beach. Despite not being a particularly strong swimmer I would be resolute to swim the furthest, to capsize the most, to dunk as many people as possible.
The year I took up surfing, this was no different. I started up with taking lessons, but as the weeks progressed I began to go by myself, intent on becoming one of those blonde haired surfers seen on the posters plastered up around town, defying the rules of gravity. My plan was only hindered by the resolute fact that I was, frankly terrible, largely attributed by my ability to lose my footing even on dry land.
Upon overhearing that the biggest waves could be found past the fringe of surfers that bobbed in wait of a swell, there was very little chance that I could be persuaded that paddling further out was a terrible idea.
Body pressed against the board, arms steadily scooping on either side, I paddled as far out as I could go. So absorbed in the motion, I didn’t realise quite how far I had travelled. Unbeknownst to me, the current was incredibly strong once you passed the edges of the cliffs, pushing you out at an angle from the beach so that it became difficult to distinguish the position of the beach.
Looking around, my vista was only open water. A vast swell of sea. The heavy weight at the bottom of my stomach arrived alongside the chill I felt in the air. I had no idea which way was land. The sensation of fear was a new and horrifying experience and one I had no wish to feel again. For what seemed like hours I paddled, that now familiar pressure vital and bone-deep, pushing me onwards until I reached the shore.
Days later, I hear my mother telling the events to my uncle as I walked by the living room, the sound of my name catching my attention. Sitting, with one ear pressed against the door I listened, the story transformed at the tongue of my mother. Rather than fearful, I sounded brave.