Chapter Five: Riding Waves

I carry the ocean: a pocket full of sand.


I arrive back in London after a too-short weekend by the sea at my childhood home. The foggy headache that’s lingered behind my eyes for the past two months starts to creep back. I hadn’t noticed its absence until its return. I stand amidst the clutter of our lounge and sigh, my hands resting in my pockets.

I feel it then on my fingertips and smile: sand.

We were only popping out for a dog walk. A short trip to the beach to breathe in the salty breeze and watch the dogs frolic in the sand. It was for their benefit of course, we were merely supervising as grown ups do.

“Can we go and paddle?!” she exclaims, my ten year-old cousin, all legs and blonde curls and giddy excitement. I try to think of a reason to say no, as is the standard grown up response. Instead I untie my converse, roll up my culottes and race her into the froth of the waves. Grown ups are the least rational of them all.

We jump waves and play Tag, skipping through the surf and squelching sand between our toes. It’s not long before we venture a little further, silently daring each other closer to the edge of the world. Sea spray laps up at our ankles, knees, thighs, testing how far we’ll go.

She splashes me tentatively, one eye on Mum, the other trying to gauge my reaction. Our clothes are speckled in sea salt and a telling-off is surely imminent. In my best grown-up voice I tell her not to splash me, our clothes will get wet, and before her frown begins to quiver I scoop her up and launch us both backwards into the belly of the sea, its ocean arms enveloping us. I keep her head above water but my freshly washed hair is beyond saving, my sunglasses ebbing away with the tide. We’re swimming now, racing towards the horizon, flinging seaweed and sand, blinking salt and sun out of our eyes.

And in that instant I feel it hit me like a tidal wave and wash over my heart: joy. Pure, unadulterated happiness. And I can’t remember when I last felt like this. I’m ten all over again. A mermaid, Moana, Maui, singing in the middle of the ocean without a care in the world.

When did we stop having fun?

I don’t know if I’m a million miles away from miscarriage and failure and infertility, or if it’s those very things that led me here, flinging my arms and singing to the sun.

I turn out my pocket and examine the sand that nestles in the folds of fabric. How many moments led to these specks landing here? I tuck the pocket back in place, patting it gently. My headache dissipates. I carry the ocean.

“Promise me you will not spend so much time treading water and trying to keep your head above the waves that you forget, truly forget, how much you have always loved to swim.”

– Tyler Knott Gregson.

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