I’m four and a half years old. I hold up 4 pudgy fingers to tell you so. I make sure to add the half. With voice. The half is important. It means I’m gaining on 5. It means I’ll be a sister soon. It means those 4 and 1/2 years will always be between myself and my brother. It means I’ll be his elder. It means I’ve been preparing to show him a world I’ve already scoped.
I’m under the surface swallowing sea water. Through foam and disturbed sand, I see my father’s hands breaking through that crest of ocean above. Strong hands. Backlit by panic. And California sun. And me. I’ve never met drowning. I don’t know it’s name. It’s quiet. Here. Time stands. I’m calm.
Like many mornings, I’ve been sitting on my father’s surfboard, thumping over tender waves. He does the paddling. I sit on the front. Tiny captain of a tiny ship. He holds my hands. Helps me stand.
Bend your knees, Jenny.
I have his feet.
Ready? Hold your breath. Don’t breathe until we come up.
Big hand. Taking mine. Pulling me beneath a wave that tumbles over head.
The force of water with a pulse. The rumble of it rushing past my ears.
Kick Kick Kick.
Like in swim class.
My mother cheering at me from the side of the pool.
I’d been the smallest one.
But there I was.
I wanted to be a fish like my father.
I was thoroughly captivated. His confidence. His sunkissed back as he went diving into walls of foam. That flick of his wrist as he’d toss his sunglasses and baseball cap to the sand. Run headlong into that sparkling blue.
The ocean is my father’s church.
Every wave, a prayer.
He knows its tempers, its tides, its creatures.
He also knows its mystery. He marvels at how much he doesn’t know.
He is his father’s son. The sea, his temple.
He hadn’t seen this swell coming.
One wave and I was gone. Swept under. Lost.
Little me. What influence could I have against that force.
It flicked me from my father’s board and pulled me into it’s salty arms.
Somersaults. A ballet that washed me present. I am at the ocean’s mercy.
Then, the crack of sound.
I’m spitting water. Back in the safety of my father’s arms.
My pregnant mother running toward in a bikini. A kind of terror I’d never seen on her face.
I had sand in my teeth. But I was fine.
Salty lung. I drank two apple juices from the cooler to wash down all that sea water.
It felt good. Squinting in sun. Being alive.
Hello nature. Hello lungs. Hello Breath.