«MY OLD MAN AND THE SEA»
A creative non-fiction essay by Iris García Bolaños.
Many times you have been portrayed as something threatening. There are several stories that talk about the dangers that come with you: storms, shipwrecks, flooding and drownings. Evil creatures are said to dwell in your immensity: the Kraken, the Leviathan, Cthulhu, Moby Dick… Others talk about the isolation that you impose and the hardships of the sailors trying to overcome their seclusion. However, for us you will always be the noblest thing.
Us, me and my old man: just a father and a daughter that you helped evolve into “Us.” Since an early age he taught me there was nothing in you to be afraid of: you didn’t mean death but life, we all are your children. He taught me how to get into you, to dip and swim, to splash and float. He spent a whole summer teaching me how to plunge; those were cherished moments that will stay with me forever.
Even that day when you turned me upside down and made me lose my little shoe, my favorite shoe, he told me it was ok. It was just a shoe and I mustn’t let this make me scared of you as you were no evil, it was just your untamed nature and this would teach me not to fear but to respect you. He said those are two different things. So off I went back into your embrace, still resentful about my shoe but ready to forget and learn as he held my hand.
When I was ready, he bought me a snorkel set. I was about to discover who the real inhabitants at your shores were. I learned the name of every fish and was able to tell one from another: Parrotfish (Vieja), White Beam (Sargo), Lizard Fish (Lagarto), Turkish Fish (Pejeverde), Damselfish (Fula) and my all-time favourite, the Wide Eyed Flounder (Tapaculo). How I loved to inspect every inch of the sandy bottoms, trying to tell where one of them was hiding.
But Papa not only showed me the fish. There were also weirder animals like the Yellow Sponge, the Sea Urchin or the Sea Cucumber, and finding a Starfish was always like hitting the jackpot. However, there was no trace of monsters or malign creatures coexisting with all these beauties. Moray eels scared me the most, but I remember not to fear but to respect their untamed nature.
My mother never learned to do so, either with the eels or with you. That is why she got on her nerves when we spent more than an hour in the water. She would look for our heads and our snorkels praying for us not to succumb to your depths. But that was never the case and as soon as we went back into the sand, she could see the smiles on our faces, our unstoppable chatting after signed communicating during the day adventure. That was our bond and the loveliest memories of my childhood.
By the time I reached puberty I couldn’t care less about you or being with my father. I wanted to be on my own, locked in my room reading, listening to music or looking at a screen. Luckily, Papa did still care about me and provided me with what for him were the best records, films and books: The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, H.P. Lovecraft, Hemingway, and many more. None of these made an impression on me except for the Sex Pistols and some Poe. How silly can a girl be?
Although it takes some years, fortunately one gets over the foolishness of that age. My dad was still waiting for me at the end of the tunnel, ready to pack things up and go on vacation to any place that had a coast. However, I would still reject his invitation for some time. I had just a little amount of time to spend with him as most was dedicated to my friends. Whatever, he was just my old man!
By the time he got sick, I knew we would never go snorkeling anymore as he could barely breathe. Nevertheless, we found our moment. After a long fight he got better enough to be able to travel and the destination was clear: anywhere seaside. We ended up in Portugal and you worked your magic on him. I remember how he floated and smiled and said that those days were like being born again.
We had the chance to spend a few years together before he finally passed away. We watched “Rebecca” and “Some Like It Hot” while he rested on the sofa; we sang to “Michelle” and “The Wall,” even though his voice was not the same and we got gripped in the mysteries of “The Nameless City.” Sadly, I only got acquainted with Mr. Hem last year. How I would like to tell him.
Bitterness apart, I still feel the warmth of that last final day. He was not him anymore, but ashes in an urn. We rode to El Médano, where many years ago I lost my favorite shoe. Mom was still reluctant to risk getting into you but no way was I going to miss my last chance to swim with Papa. So she stayed ashore, guarding as she always did, while we went deeper in. I looked at her from the distance, took a deep breath and released dad’s ashes as a wave passed by. The water coming back and forth, in a minute I was surrounded by them and as I closed my eyes and floated I felt his embrace, I felt your embrace. The three of us, together at last until you finally took him away to meet the starfish and the cucumber and I went back to the sand with the old smile in my face to meet my mother.