Day 92 - Frosty Says It's All about the Glide
I was afraid. Worst case, a rogue wave was going to come screaming in from Japan and take me down and under and kill me. Best case, I'd live and get to text my daughter when I was done and tell her I rode a wave.
Frosty had said there weren't going to be any waves, and I felt as if I'd won the lottery. I was going to be in the water with him AND I didn't have to die.
We met at his house which is a two-minute walk from the ocean. The last time I had put on my wetsuit was for the ALS ice-water bucket challenge a few years ago. The time before that George W. was President and I was boogie boarding enough--twice--to think I needed a wetsuit.
Have you ever put on a wetsuit when both you and it are dry? It's like shrinkwrapping yourself. I was in Frosty's storage shed, trying to pull a sausage casing over a giraffe while not falling into his wall of surfboards or stepping on the spilled nails scattered over the floor. My arms were shaking by the time I got the whole suit up over my shoulders. The back zipper has a long pull-tie attached to it so you can zip yourself up, but either my zipper was old and stuck or I was.
Luckily Frosty is a patient man and is used to zipping up novice surfers.
He lent me one of his boards, a blue soft top he said you can buy for a hundred bucks at Costco. His board was red and a whole lot longer than mine. I felt like a little kid. We walked to the stairs by 36th Street and headed down to the bit of beach. The water was calm and seaweedy. There was a handful of surfers scattered about, bobbing on the wavelets.
"We'll paddle out there and then I'll push you when a wave comes so you can experience the glide," Frosty said. "It's all about the glide."
I asked what glide meant to him in his life and he said joy. Frosty has light eyes and a wonderful smile so when he says joy, it's redundant. It's like a sunflower saying yellow.
He said it takes a lot of upper body strength to paddle out, and I flexed. "I'm a massage therapist," I said. "I got this."
Frosty smiled. "People think they know upper body strength and then they get on the board," he said. I waded out into the water, fully confident I'd stay with him the short distance to the bobble of surfers up ahead. He had me lay on the board and showed me how to position myself so the board was balanced. He showed me how to push my upper body off the board when I was riding a wave so that the nose of the board would lift. We started to paddle out. Watching Frosty paddle is a beautiful thing. It's like watching a baby breathe. So easy. So natural.
After forty-five seconds, I was panting. This paddle out business was using muscles in my arms I had not met before. I could feel the tiny fibers in muscle spindles tearing. I smiled. I put my head down on the board. I was still smiling. I paddled with my head down, smiling, panting. I was a massage therapist. I had upper body strength. The fibers in my my strong body continued to tear.
There was so much seaweed sometimes I could grab hunks of it as I paddled and tried to pull myself faster. It was like grabbing someone's hair without the screaming that normally follows. Frosty was up ahead and I gave up caring whether I fell behind as soon as I fell behind. The board was cool on my cheek when I lay my head down to take a moment to float and feel. I was out in the water with Frosty Hesson because I had asked. I had made this happen out of a whim, out of curiousity. I was floating.
Frosty was behind me on his red board, and we waited for some action. He told me to take the wave at an angle so I'd get a longer ride and so that the nose of my board wouldn't get caught in the white water. (I think this is what he said--I didn't follow directions the second time. All I know is that I fell off the board and held my nose like a pro.) He pushed me, and. lord oh lord, I felt the glide.
It's like life gets both softer, quieter, and faster in the glide. The pace of your life shifts; the rhythm is both you and not you. Maybe this is what it feels like to be blood in a body, the ride down or up veins and arteries. Swift, propelled by an unseen force.
We say we get carried away by our emotions. I got carried away by the ocean.
Frosty was so kind. He just kept waiting for me to paddle back. He said "Hey!" at two other surfers, not at me, when I ran them over. He said, "You let your nose drop and you went straight with the wave," when I wiped out. He just kept waiting for a little swell to happen and then he just kept kept pushing me into the action so I could feel the glide.
The last one took me almost to the shore. I put my head down and rested. I had done it. "Paddle to the sand," Frosty called out.
I pretended it was a piece of cake, paddling the rest of the way in. I just kept smiling. Life is best when it feels like a present. I counted to ten over and over again in my head, telling myself I could rest when I stopped counting. Finally I realized I was paddling in just a foot of water and I could stand up and walk--only it was like when you've been skating and you walk in your shoes and you are unsteady and strange. Walking felt like that, when I (let's face it, awkwardly) slid off the board. I hoped my legs wouldn't give out and have me face plant in six inches of water.
Frosty had told me that he thanks the water when he gets in and when he gets out, so I thanked it as I walked up the stairs because I'd been too distracted to say thank you when I was still in the water. I was proud of my body for not making me crawl up the stairs, for letting me carry the board AND walk upright.
At his house, we hosed off the boards and I went back into the shed to wrestle with my wetsuit. You know when you have an old candy and you want to eat it, but the wrapper has cemented itself to the bit of caramel or whatever? My wetsuit was that wrapper. But I persevered because I wanted to get home and eat a trough full of food.
My friend Antonia surfs for hours every day. How does she do it? How did Frosty surf Mavericks? How do all those people who make it look so easy make it look so easy? I feel as though the marrow in my bones would be stronger if I surfed regularly. Not to mention my bones. My muscles. My will.
Later that morning I lay down to rest. I was in that sweet swaying place between awake and out like a light. I had one hand on my stomach my other hand was dreaming it was holding onto a metal bar, like the one that is one the sides of hospital beds. I became aware enough to pay attention to that hand, to ask what it was doing in the hospital. I floated back in time and was waiting for the medical staff to finish cleaning both me and newly-born Keats before bringing her back to me.
(Now that I know what I know about babies and mothers, the doctors and nurses would have had to rip Keats out of my hands--they could have sprayed her with a hose as she lay at home on me for all I would have cared--but this was before I'd read about the side-effects of separating mothers and newborns.)
I lay in this dream state, in my hospital bed that was in my mind, waiting to hold my baby daughter who was actually an hour and a half away, in summer school, studying her brains out and, hopefully, having lots of fun. I felt so hopeful, so quiet, so happy, so aware of what it is like to be in the moment before your life is never the same again. I had delivered a baby, yes, that was true, but almost immediately she had disappeared, and so there was a waiting, a waiting for the adventure to start, for the feeding, the bonding, the touch of the skin, the I'm Mommy and this is Daddy, but soon, soon, she would be in my arms and for the next some years it would be her father's and my job to keep her alive, and after she could look both ways before crossing the street and drive herself to school, as always, it would be our job, our joy, our privilege, to love her.
I lay there, blessed by Frosty's generosity, the generosity of the ocean, and I thought about the fact that I could live in this state forever, this state of gratitude and anticipation and sweet hope. I could live on the edge of change; I could live in the shiny-eyed state teachers learn to recognize in students who are ready to share their thoughts, their breakthroughs.
I texted Keats to tell her I had done it. That's awesome, Mom, she wrote.
Just as the waves break on the shore, our children come to us.
See you tomorrow.
Photo by Susan Stojanovich