We sit outside on the curb licking our quickly melting delights. A group of young kids play in the street nearby. One of their pelotas (balls) comes flying our way and an adorable chubby girl comes racing after it. She stops short, seeing Shannon’s ice cream cone, and reaches out to signal that she wants some. Shannon caves and hands it over.
Little “Gordita,” as they call her, inhales what is left as a wide-grinned boy comes running up and hucks his feet over his head in an awkward cartwheel. I pass him the rest of my cone, get up, and cartwheel myself. The girl then bounces Shannon a ball. Shannon chucks it to me. Soon the road around us erupts into a playground of rocketing pelotas, sprawling brown limbs, deliberate collisions, speedy footraces, dance moves, and unbridled yelps. It’s like the whistle for recess has blown and Shannon and I revert to our days on the blacktop.
After an hour of dodging tourists, twirling kids, and flinging pelotas, I look over to see Shannon dancing in a misshapen circle of squirming kids, holding hands and singing with glee. I’m not sure who’s having more fun us or them? We begin to tire, but they don’t. We need an escape plan.
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“More ice cream?” I propose, thinking of Barry and my father’s generosity. Shannon nods.
I get permission from their onlooking mothers, who’ve been sitting on the sidewalk, taking in the show while selling handmade crafts. They nod unanimously. We herd the kids into the ice cream parlor, and the head count doubles as children up and down the street catch on to the deal. Even Juanito Chiquito, who couldn’t have been more than two years old, is lifted up by his sister so he can pick out a flavor. They walk out one by one, ice cream princes and princesses flaunting their tall, cold scoops. Snaggs and I go for round two, and then sit back on the curb where we started, surrounded by our new fleet of young friends licking, laughing, and wiggling beside us. Gordita is pinned at my left hip, alternately dipping her spoon into her scoop then mine.
A Fillet of Humility
Knife in hand, I hunch over the taut body of the medium-sized tuna we caught on our passage. Swell is tied to a dock for the first time in months, and it’s nice to have a flat open space to clean our catch. Just as I begin to make my first cut, a lanky forty-something gringo walks up and leans casually against a nearby dock box.
“Nice catch,” he remarks.
“Thanks,” I reply, not even looking up. I’m not enthused about having a spectator. He doesn’t catch my hint, though, and launches into a detailed fish story. Roger that, amigo, you’re the boss, now please let me fillet my fish in peace, I think.
He carries on and I roll my eyes while preparing to make the first cut. I was up all night fighting a three-knot current and an angry bee swarm to get here. I’m tired, and hungry, and not in the mood to chat right now.
My knife isn’t sharp enough, and my impatience is making it harder. I massacre the first fillet, finally hacking it off the carcass. Then I struggle to grip the skin to remove it from the meat.
“You know,” he says, pausing his storm story.
I knew this was coming.
“If you cut the outline of the fillet first, and leave the meat connected to the bones, it’s a hell of a lot easier to pull off the skin.”
I continue peeling and pulling at the skin of the first fillet, struggling to hide my irritation. He keeps right on with his stories, jolly as ever. “My parents weren’t sailors, you see ”
I try hopelessly to tune him out, flipping the fish over to start on the other side. My foul attitude aside, I decide to try his technique. I slice across the backbone first, then from the head down to the stomach, and so forth, finishing with the fillet completely outlined.
“Perfect. Now pull the skin back starting from the head,” he says.
It peels off perfectly in one piece.
“Thadda girl,” he smiles, then turns and walks down the dock.
My exasperation dissolves quickly into guilt. I had been so cold and disrespectful, hardly even looking up at him. I finish the cleanly cut second fillet and run to catch up with him.
“Here you go.” I hand him the fresh hunk of meat. “Thank you for the tip.”
Light in the Dark
It’s 3 am. I’m sitting on the bow in total darkness, my harness clipped securely to the mast like a baby’s umbilical cord to its mother. The moon has set. I can’t really make out the horizon, but the steady sound of Swell’s hull cutting through the calm sea provides some orientation. The darkness is freckled with twinkling stars and planets, clusters of lights from land, and thick blooms of tumbling phosphorescence in the bow wake. I can’t stop staring. There’s something about the scene that brings all the mysteries of life to mind.
What the heck are we doing here on this tiny speck in the void? What is life about? I ponder.
The mainsail rustles, filling and slackening in the light offshore breeze. The warm, dry air carries whiffs of dust and burnt trash from the coast of Guatemala. As I scan and squint for lights from other ships, I have no answers, but feel certain that I am where I am supposed to be.
We were lucky to bump into Pablo in Puerto Escondido, our expat buddy from farther north, who quickly advised us to change out our shortboards for the biggest boards we had, and lose our leashes so as to lessen hold-down time at the heavy beach break. He even gave Shannon a big-wave board. Thanks to his tips, we caught some unforgettable rides, although I was frustrated because I never managed to get a tube. When the surf got too big we rounded up a few local Mexican surfer girls, picked up Katie, my surf buddy who had flown in to join us, and sailed to a remote surf spot outside of town. We enjoyed the time like sisters, but being around such confident women had quietly reminded me of my own insecurities.
The dark night and solitude coax my inner shadows to the surface. I’ve put off facing them for as long as I can remember, always finding an excuse. I have never felt pretty or desirable enough. I fight with the ugly parts of me on the inside, too I can be terribly greedy, impatient, and self-centered. I’m too sensitive, too reactive, too quick to judge. And when my bouts with depression arise, the sadness blots out everything and the world becomes almost unbearable.
My parents’ faces come to mind. I always tried to make them happier but nothing ever worked. I feel their pain as my own. The uncomfortable silences, the sorrow I don’t always understand, the sound of another beer being opened, a door slamming, hidden tears, the smell of cigarettes, alcohol, regret, misunderstanding. The distant looks in their eyes. The feeling of being alone even when they were near. My throat swells. Hot tears well up in my eyes. I quickly wipe them away.
Knowing these feelings can return with only a slight trigger renders me weak and vulnerable. I have to face my own flaws, slay these emotional monsters, and give up trying to change Mom and Dad. Now I’m here, living my dream. There are no excuses for being unhappy.
Pssssssssshhhhhhhht, pssshhhht. Something surfaces for a breath nearby.
Glowing torpedoes rocket toward us from the starboard quarter: dolphins! They light up the sea around Swell with their trails of phosphorescence, surfing the bow wake and looping back for more.
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