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Sunday, November 30, 2008

the surf, again...

The purple, opaque water. Gentle waves, the purring of overboard boat engines in the distance, reverberating as you put the child-snorkel on and went under water. The waves of sand at the bottom, the few fish darting past, fleeting specs of silver. The view of the one ugly fishing village in the entire Caribbean, the iridiscent film of fuel-oil that often was in the water, its pungent smell. The hum of the power stations at each end of the place, which we couldn't hear until we went in the water, maybe only because we were used to it, spending every week-end in Arrecife, for nine months in the year.

I liked that bit, the gentle solitude of being there in the water, watching a very small tame world underneath carry its existence without caring for me but without bothering me either. I would mostly float, mesmerised in the contemplation of the few things that dwelt in that water, in that sand. I didn't like as much the moment to go home at the end of the afternoon, when my dad would come out of the bar after many, many beers and clap his hands, stumble to the car, look at me from over his shades -who knows what there was in that gaze, what he saw. Maybe enormous disappointment was all there was there. I wasn't him. I was certainly not the child he wanted. And yet I was as much he as I was my mother, no question about it. Nobody had swapped me at the hospital. But I was not the boy he would have wanted. He didn't have the wife he wanted either, my poor mum slowly shutting down her mind over years of suffering and decline.

The trip home was absolutely terrifying. Nearly always. Sometimes he would choose to go through the winding mountain road instead of the motorway, having drunk more than his share during the day while he played dominoes -yes, dominoes, that game which is a gentle thing for little old ladies here in Britain, turned as it had done in Venezuela into a macho game, with much shouting, slamming down the pieces against the table and aggressive display that made me think of apes in natural history movies.... oh, how I misunderstood the poor man. But then again, how he misunderstood me and reacted to and built me in ways that it took me many years to overcome.

There were a couple of occasions when he started threatening to drive off the road into the precipice, as he told us we weren't human and had no feelings and life was worthless. My mum would scream, my sister would whimper a bit, I would just sit there. I only ever spoke to him when spoken to. I lived in terror of him.

And yet he was just a man who had been dragged away as a child of sixteen to fight a meaningless war, after which he went back to his country to find it ruined and strange. So he went to Venezuela -where there wasn't a winter, or snow, and that was the reason he chose it- and married my mother, a couple in which each of them was possibly the most unsuitable person in the world for the other one. And as her mental and physical health declined towards an early senile dementia, he found himself more and more trapped -the same old story, the tale went wrong, very wrong and not at all as he had planned, marrying, having children that would be like him, only better. I don't know whether I was better or worse, but I most certainly was not like him...

We would arrive home and not shower, because the salt in the sea water was good for you and had to sleep itchy, scratchy , uncomfortable to get up at six in the morning the next day. It wasn't a bad life, I make it sound perhaps much worse than it felt like -for me, it was all normal up to a point -I knew far more dysfunctional families, but the frame of reference, the perfect families on television, did not resemble my family at all...

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