My kayak is a bright, cerulean blue, and sturdy, with smooth, solid curves. When I see photos of me in it, I look different, somehow – alone, strong, adventurous. This person, paddle slicing through glassy water, is free. She can take off on a whim, cope with whatever is thrown at her, and is always on the cusp of discovering something new – a hidden cove, a shoal of darting mackerel, a secret house only glimpsed from the sea. This person knows exactly where she is going, isn’t lost in the day to day.
My husband bought it for me after a hospital stay. Me, clock-watching as his 30-minute operation became four hours, words muttered about haemorrhaging, cauterising, complications. When he finally emerged, he still wasn’t well. I remember the nurse’s flushed face, the young doctor’s shaking hand as it dawned things weren’t quite going to plan. I’d never faced death like that, right in the eye. What scared me was how lonely it was – my husband was the one I turned to in a crisis, but this time the crisis was him. My stomach dipped as I thought about our two young daughters. What would I tell them?
But he made it through, and after, there was a freedom about him – something loose,
untethered. We did the things we’d only talked about before, dreams we’d squirrelled away inside our heads – took the risky job, adopted the kitten my daughter wanted (not just one but two), bought the kayak I’d been coveting.
There’s something primal about paddling. It feels ancient, the rhythm of it. I’m part of the water, literally feeling it, its movements, as it resists the paddle stroke by stroke. So low on the water, without the grumble or whine of a motor – the birds mistake me for one of them. They arc through the sky, or sit perched on a nearby rock, feathers slick with water. Cormorants dive headfirst into the waves right in front of me, reappear a minute later, black heads gleaming.
I chart the changing seasons from the water, and I’ve learnt that the sea has its own topography. I now know where the rocks are, crusty with barnacles, just jutting out of the water, and where the beds of sea grass hide, the swathes of seaweed – gelatinous green ropes and brown fern-like growths that loop around the paddle.
I can’t wait to show my daughters this world, but I’ll still kayak alone – remembering why we bought it, to become the person I am inside my head.
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