I always hate writing prompts that ask me to write about my childhood, and to stick to the truth. Frankly, there’s not a lot in my sheltered, middle class, suburban childhood that makes for an interesting story. In my last writing class, we were once given a prompt to write down everything we remembered from kindergarten. It may have made for a good memory exercise, but it also made for some pretty boring writing.
So, for this prompt, I give you free reign to rip off your childhood and use it to create something else. To bend the facts. To embellish. To downright lie, if you feel like it.
For the piece I’ll share, I was inspired to write about my summers on the little fishing island where my family went for vacation every year. I was completely fearless in the ocean, to the point that the fear I feel now standing safely on shore and staring at the waves always surprises me. As I wrote, the story shifted, to become the beginnings of a story about a girl who is partly me, and partly someone else completely.
When I was a child, the ocean was my mother. I swam every day in her waves, from May until September, not caring if the shock of the cold water left goose bumps on my arms or my teeth chattering. I’d swim out past the breakers, where the water was over my head, diving deep enough to touch the bottom, staying under with my eyes open in the murky darkness until my lungs were burning. When I came ashore, my eyes would be teary from the salt water, my arms and legs wobbly, my chest tight, and yet I’d still want to turn around on the sand and run back to her.
At night, I fell asleep to her music, feeling the tug of the moon as I turned around and around in my bed, her tides shifting through my body, loud enough to drown out the sound of the TV downstairs, where dad sat watching late night shows until 1 am.
On bad days when they don’t pull anything in, I’ve heard my dad’s friends mutter that the ocean is against them, not knowing that to fight her, to try to force anything out of her, is to make her your enemy. That the key is surrender. Is loss. I know all about loss.
Some of the mainlanders, the tourists, they fear her – the waves that once held them up and now shove them under, the current that a minute ago pulled them to shore and now drags them away, the sand that supported them and now shifts under their feet. They forget that, by the same rule, that which now knocks them down will soon bear them up again.
“The ocean is the great changemaker of the world,” dad told me the day he first taught me to swim, “and those who understand her, who trust her, will be loved.” He was right. And that’s why, when I turned 13 and started to fear change, to realize I couldn’t trust even myself, I started to fear the ocean too.