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Friday, March 17, 2006

the surf (june 2005)

What is it we are, I used to ask myself, sitting on the sand, hearing the white noise of the waves, the crunching steps, the shouts in the distance melting in the mushy white noise. The uncomfortable feeling of the sand in between your toes, under your swimming trunks, the being alone there wondering what I was and what I was doing in the world, while screaming families playing beach volleyball, a couple laid out a picnic nearby, the girl of my dreams (what dreams you could have at that age of a girl older than you) walked by in the mid distance, her long brown hair thrown around in the wind -and then she would squawk, shout in a shrill penetrating voice to her boyfriend and add to the crunchy aural background, as well as to the general feeling that life was slightly pointless -as well as too short. All the answers to the questions that mattered were hidden from us. And all the girls that I could possibly like would forever love me as a friend and tell me their exploits with boys and ask me for advice. I could clearly see that future laid in front of me then, so early, and I knew it would be true and rued it even then.

I could see my mum, who couldn't swim, floating on an enormous black tyre tube, a rare moment of calm and absence of stress in her lonely crumbling life. My sister was playing with a bucket and spade, covered in wet sand, in her synthetic looking pink swimsuit. My dad wasn't in sight, he was away at the bar, playing dominoes with his chums, in the midst of many bottles of beer, shouting and slamming the pieces down, the hoarse laughter filling the room -how I hated that. There was something about those men and women that repelled me so thoroughly, that seemed intrinsically wrong and dirty about them and which felt menacing to a shy thirteen year old who was finding out he didn't believe in God and the essential justice of the universe, but who desperately needed answers and reassurances to cling on to, needed explanations for his dysfunctional family, his dysfunctional environment, city and country....

I used to fold up bits of card, cut out a bilaterally symmetric little human figure with a cape, draw its face and Superman costume and give it a name, a soul and a personality, as we do to our toys and perhaps to our pets who we think we know but with whom there is the chasm of the essential difference in how we process the world. I had a few with me nearly at all times but not that piercingly bright midday at the beach, alone on the sand while around me all went around the business of having fun on a day out. I dug in the sand with a stick, half-blinded by the sunlight, made myself small and invisible. My father walked past without looking at me, went in the water and swam in long arm movements far, far into the sea. Maybe he wouldn't return, maybe he'd disappear. What would we do? He wouldn't shout at us again, but also we wouldn't have money to buy food and things (I don't think I had, even then, a clear idea of the correspondence between work and money and the things we had). He was drunk, I knew; he should not be swimming so far out into the sea, far past the buoys.

Soon he would come out and shout and wave at us in his foreign Italian way, to gather our things and go to the car, that boiling box of metal with plastic upholstery that would burn the textured pattern, imprint onto our skin. He would shout at us a couple of times. We had no feelings, we did not understand him or care for him. Fuck you, I might as well drive off that cliff, I might well do that. Then my mum would implore, please Pascual don't do that. We would remain silent, my sister and I. Only now I realise that every week-end we went to the beach I was convinced we would not make it back, something dreadful like a stupid car accident would happen or our father would flip and really drive off the cliff. None of these things ever happened, but they loomed large in my mind and probably my sister's -although I have come to learn that she has very different memories of those days of which my own seem to be so glum, for me a tale of quiet despair and of the universe going wrong under the blue, blue Caribbean sky...