Rebels and Wallflowers

14 Mar

From the beach, the sea is immense, but it gets bigger when you’re in a boat and land disappears from sight.  Suddenly you find yourself chasing an elusive horizon that seems to tumble from the sky into the water like a blue blizzard, or an avalanche. It’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.

The girl swam to her grandfather’s boat, released it from its mooring, lay flat on her back in the bottom of the hull like a stow-a-way; she watched white Cumulus overhead shape-shift, the rhythm of lapping water lulling her brain into a nearly unconscious state.  When the sound of waves breaking on shore vanished, she sat up. That was when she realized she’d drifted much further from the safety of her grandfather’s house atop the bluff overlooking the bay than she had intended, and her stomach tightened, then lurched, the bitter sting of lunch rising in the back of her throat. 

She was in deep water now, the gradual slope of sand bars behind her, only the midnight blues of the channel as far as she could see.  The sharks she imagined circled in anticipation with night only a few hours away. 

This was the row boat, not the larger one with the Evinrude motor.  But there were the oars, so all wasn’t lost. The girl pulled them from starboard, placed them in  rusty oar locks, sat with her back to the bow as she dipped them into the water, moving the oars in unison like two giant wings on a huge bird, an albatross maybe.  The dot in the distance was home, but she knew she would have to work harder than she had ever worked before to get there.  That thought filled her with an unfamiliar sensation, and her breathing deepened and evened out.  The girl held her head high and began to whistle.

Rowing against the current was hard work, but the girl was strong; her endurance was untested, she had yet to discover her limits.  The idea that barriers should contain her thoughts, should influence her vision of herself; that century old standards and gender based expectations should restrict her ability to achieve any goal she set for herself had not yet formed in her brain.  She knew only what she’d learned for herself, and watching her grandfather. 

In the beginning there was only the land, but Grandfather said that was all they needed, so for weeks, the two lived in a cramped borrowed trailer while they built their home.  Often she marveled at the concept of creating something useful and sturdy from nothing at all, using only primitive tools and a strong back and of course, Grandfather’s knowledge and resolve.

These memories wafted in and out of her mind as she rowed, making her stronger, filling her with the sense that she is liberating herself from a nameless, faceless capture. 

She imagines Grandfather waiting for her on the bluff, sitting in the forest green Adirondack chair he’d built, the chair he sits in when he watches the waters below for schools of mullet.  She knows her grandfather realized she was gone almost as soon as she had left; perhaps he had even watched her leave, chuckling at her great escape, amused by her determination to intentionally break a rule, and proud to have witnessed another passage in her life. 

Had she known he was watching, she might have understood he recognized the necessity of this small rebellion, how sacred and intimate such choices become.  She already knew he would not be angry at her; Grandfather would understand, even if until this very moment, she, herself, had not fully grasped the requisite need to establish independence, to spread one’s wings and jump off the highest cliff, testing your fortitude, knowing instinctively you can fly. 

The girl’s mind moved to another thought as she rowed, turning her head from time to time to look at the cliffs that were growing larger and larger, emboldening her to do whatever it takes to find her way home.  In her mind’s eye, the girl was at a dance in the school gym where the bleachers were lined with a short string of unfortunate girls who had yet to discover how beautiful they are.  And she suddenly understood that taking a boat without permission, drifting mindlessly into open sea was inspired by the same kind of longing a wall flower has to dance, to feel the spotlight emphasize her presence in the shallows of a dance-floor-world of popular girls, to dream that jocks might stop dead in their tracks as if seeing her for the first time, amnesia claiming their memories of ignoring her in corridors and the lunch room, or even worse, laughing at her on the track in Phys-Ed where she is forced to wear one of those hideous white short jumpsuits with elastic around her thighs.

The sound of waves breaking on shore roars in the girl’s ears.  She turns to see her grandfather standing on the bluff watching over her; he is smiling.   The girl angles the small boat parallel the mooring post and tosses the anchor in; then jumps into the water, swimming with the rope in her teeth.  She ties the knot around the post the way Grandfather taught her; then swims to shore.

On the beach again, the sea rushes in, foam pools around her ankles and a sand dollar nudges her foot.  She bends down and picks it up with her hands.  The girl looks to the bluff again, this time Grandfather is not there.  She knows they will talk about this at dinner tonight.  Without thinking, the girl tosses the sand dollar as far as she can, back into the sea.

“Go home”, she says.

Climbing the stairs that wind up the bluff, the girl hears herself say,

“I’m not a good soldier anymore; I’m not sure what I am or what I’ll ever be, but whatever happens, I’ll take the risk, and I will be the one who decides.”



One Response to “Rebels and Wallflowers”

  1. losttaurus March 14, 2013 at 2:52 pm #

    Another good one! Thanks for sharing.

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