New Lease On Life
The next morning, I find myself up at four, strolling the shore lazily - deep in thought.
As a surfer, you can expect to find most of us up at dawn. The best waves happen to be crushing earlier in the morning. It’s easier to shred them up. However, today the beach is quiet and the usual busy line-up is dead. It’s just empty coast for miles up. The usual pumping sea has blistered down to a calm swell, the sun’s rays slowly appearing above in time as the heavens open up above.
The green-blue mass of water ahead of me is oddly calm, a complete contrast to how I feel on the inside.
I had overreacted yesterday, but what Chase had said in turn was inexcusable. My issues with him run deeper than most wounds. They say wounds heal with time, but do they really ever heal? Sure, they fade, but they never really go away.
“Yo Gabs!” I turn to see Caleb running up behind me, his surfboard beneath his arm, “There are no waves to shred today. The ocean is flat. So lame and-” He stops talking when he sees the distressed expression on my face. His own expressions falters, falling into a concerned frown, “Why looking so glum?” He asks, changing the subject as his attention shifts to me, “The world’s not that bleak, I promise.” He cracks a small smile in hopes of making me laugh.
I shake my head, a small smile of my own gracing my lips. It’s faint, but it’s there. Caleb’s love for life rubs off on me every now and again. His energy, enthusiasm and passion are all contagious. “It seems pretty bleak right now.” I confess, admitting to how I feel to someone for once. Caleb’s a natural people person. He’s approachable and easy to talk to. If I’m going to let on how I feel, it might as well be in front of the goofball before me. I can be vulnerable in front of him because he doesn’t judge. He has a ginormous heart and he’s always willing to help where he can.
He offers me a slow forming smile, “Look around Gabriela…” He motions about to the glistening sea and clear skies above us, “It’s a beautiful day.” He states in a matter of fact way, “Grab it with both hands and embrace it. Nothing should weigh on you right now. You should-“
“Chase took me surfing yesterday.” I interrupt, needing to get it off my chest.
“What?” Caleb sputters out in shock. I nod at him to confirm it. He recovers quickly, masking his shock with an excited smile, “That’s great.” He breathes out, speechless. He can’t express how great he thinks it is. It’s as if he can’t find the right words. “I just- that’s so damn great Gabriela.” He whispers in an lower octave, “I never thought…”
His words are there:
I never thought you’d surf again.
Catching the gist of what he means, I nod knowingly, “Yeah, me either.”
“So?” Caleb asks with a raised eyebrow, intrigued for an answer.
I shake my head in sorrow, “I tried Leb, I really did.” I say, “But when I went under, it all came back.” I tell him, referring to my past experience with Matt. After that, I let my guard down and give him the entire story of how things went down between Chase and me yesterday.
Caleb nods knowingly, “Gabriela…” The way he says my name manages to capture my full attention, “Matt is gone.” He states with conviction, “You can’t reel back like this every time the balls starts rolling. Backsliding is not healthy. From my perspective, Chase was just trying to help. He was out of line, but the point is, he was there.” Caleb voices his opinion as he jumps over a mound of sand. I skip past the dune, choosing to walk around it. “You know…” Caleb starts when he notices my silence, “you used to be one of the best,” he juts his head out in the direction of the sea, “but now you’re no longer avid to be that same surfer again.”
I shrug as I glance out to a rock pool in the distance, “Times changed me. Just as the tides change, so do I.” I answer casually, taking into account what he said. “It’s not about Matt anymore Caleb, it’s about Chase and me. It’s as if rekindling our friendship is just not possible. He’s lost faith in me, whereas I lost faith in myself a long time ago. It just stung to hear him say that, to see that there’s nothing worth regaining inside of me.” I admit aloud, “My past is a past that seems dead set on staying intact and following me to the end of my days. Sometimes I just think it would be easier if…” I trail off, deciding not to reveal such a dark thought to someone as innocent as Caleb, “Forget it.” I conclude instead, for his sake.
Caleb, as if sensing where I’d been going with my words, shakes his head at me, “This person isn’t you.”
Don’t I know it?
“Last time I checked, it is me.” I attempt a joke, but fail to play into it. My mind is elsewhere today.
“I’m serious.” Caleb tells me, his blue eyes saying exactly the same as his words - penetrating right through me like a sharp knife, “I just want you to be happy again.”
It’s not in the fact that I lost Matt, my brother and Brent, my best friend. It’s in the way I lost them, both tragic deaths that you can’t just push to the back of your mind. The reminder always finds a way to come up, eating at your insides when you think back, reminiscing to the days where they both still had breath in their lungs. My dad left soon after, having pretty much given up on life after Matt passed. My mom followed down the same route, not physically leaving, but abandoning me in another sense altogether. But most of it all comes down to the fact that I lost Chase amidst all the chaos. I got him back, only to lose him again.
How many more people do I have to lose before I’m completely alone?
“I don’t know how to be anymore.” I explain to him, honest, “I keep trying, only to keep failing. Life sure isn’t so much a breeze as surfing is.” I offer Caleb a halfhearted smile in order to assure him that I’ll be okay. In the end, I’m always okay. I want to be more than that though. I want to expect more of myself to achieve greater things. The life I currently lead is not satisfactory.
“Gabriela, you of all people, should know to keep on.” Caleb lectures me jokingly, “Stop thinking about the cons and start considering all the pros to life. Trust me, an optimistic outlook should be your only outlook.” He advises, for once actually helping to settle my anxious heart. The only problem is, I’m not him. If I could be happy-go-lucky all the time, I would. “Now stop brooding, I have good news.”
I groan, “What now?”
Caleb and his dreaded good news…
“We’re going to a dolphin show.”
Startled, I snap my gaze to his, “Huh?” I huff. Had I heard right? That’s unusual. Usually, the only thing my people want to do, is surf - all the damn time. “I love dolphins as much as the next person, but huh?” I repeat, at a loss.
“The ocean is flat. The swells are less than ideal to surf. Surfing conditions are rubbish. Choppy waves would be better at this point.” Caleb elaborates, “Hence my idea to spend this warm day to check them dolphins out. The others are all up for it.” Chase, as if seeing my apprehension takes the liberty to add, “Except for Chase. He opted out.”
Chase obviously opted out because he’s avoiding me.
I ignore the reference to Chase, “Of course it was your idea, Leb. You have a weird obsession with marine life, especially dolphins.”
“That’s rich coming from the one who has always wanted to become a marine biologist.” He retorts back with a comeback of his own.
“I’m just saying,” I smile, “you always used to ask us to get you a dolphin for your birthday, so it doesn’t come to me as much of a surprise.”
“Fair enough.” He calls over his shoulder as he runs on ahead of me, the waves just lapping at his toes, “Just a heads up, I expect one - a dolphin - this year!”
I roll my eyes at him, my lips twitching up into a full blow smile.
I duck my head in embarrassment and try to discreetly shift away from these losers I call friends. When the dolphin instructor decided to start the show off with some dancing volunteers, I hadn’t been expecting for Ty to stand up eagerly and volunteer himself. Of course, Caleb joined and the rest soon followed suit.
Their faces come up on the screen ahead of the stage where the entire crowd of audience can watch. My cheeks flush red as I try to escape the humiliation.
My eyes stray from Caleb jumping up and down to Ty playing the air-guitar before he changes over to playing drums down the line of his body. Even Stels and Duke are raving it up, Stels rocking her hips from side to side, whilst Duke bobs his head back and forth to the beat of the music, his foot stomping away. Jacob is the last to stand up from them before he joins in as he begins doing the shuffle, his feet moving quickly in front of each other.
The crowds are all in stitches, but my friends couldn’t care less. They live for the moment and are sure as hell no buzzkills. They’re the life in parties and in having a blast. I would know. I’d once been there.
Stels gestures for me to get up. I shake my head, refusing to move from an inch my position or to fall into this peer pressure they’re subjecting me to.
“Get off your ass already, Gabs!” Ty shouts above the music as he reaches down for me. I’m quick to dodge his movement, narrowly making an escape.
Somewhere along the line, Caleb catches my gaze, his blue eyes bright and full with a buzzing contentedness inside of him. Instead of doing the predictable and asking me to join, he merely flashes me a thumbs up before he begins spinning around in circles, all the while still jumping. He’s always so happy and care free. It’s refreshing and I’ve always envied his ‘I don’t give a damn’ attitude.
My eyes wander back to the rest of them. They all look like idiots, but neither of them care.
Caleb’s words from earlier hit me hard:
‘It’s a beautiful day. Grab it with both hands and embrace it.’
I drop my head into my hands, sucking in a deep breath before I spring up. Before I can change my mind, I join in and find my feet as I force myself to jump up and down with Caleb, the both of us waving our hands back and forth across the air.
The light, salty breeze floating through the air has us all on cloud nine as we take the moment for what it is - a memory.
The crowds cheer, a wallop of ‘whoos’ floating about when they see that the last remaining member has joined the dance competition - that being me.
Just like that, my moodiness from this morning is lifted.
Caleb shoots me a grin, pleased that I chose to join in, finally. He nudges me softly, as if to ask if I feel it : a whole other spirit for life.
I merely shoot him a genuine grin back before betraying him and joining Ty on his air-guitar solo, completely stealing the show right from underneath Caleb’s nose.
Ty high fives me before smirking in victory and delight at us being announced as the winners. After all, it was Ty who jumped up willingly first. We’re given vouchers at ‘Sea World’ as a reward for our efforts. Jacob takes second and the rest of the loons don’t place. We’re a wild bunch not meant for land, but rather, for water.
“Nice!” Stels compliments, “Glad you chose to join us.” She teases, “Sure did take your time though.” She elbows me playfully as we all take our seats again.
“Never doing that again.” I lie, trying to save my last shred of dignity, I blew the rest to hell the moment I stood up.
“Mhmm.” Ty winks at me knowingly, “Sure you won’t.”
Caleb pitches in, “Face it Gabriela, you’re just as wacky as the rest of us.” Before I can reply, he already speaking again, “Now guys we need to devise a strategic plan…” He glances at all of us in interest, “which one of you has experience in kidnapping dolphins?”
Of course, Ty raises his hand.
I stare out at sea, hesitant to make a move.
“Not going in?” I glance sideways to see that it is none other than Zeke standing beside me. I give him a deadpanned stare in turn. He knows my story; he should know the answer to his question. “Just asking.” He grins, placing his hands up in surrender as he takes a step back, “Tuck away those claws.” He jokes, “You do have a surfboard under your arm and your wetsuit on.” He points out as his eyes move down my frame, “Can’t blame a guy for being curious.”
I’m determined to overcome my fear, but I just don’t know how to go about it. I’ve realized that going in alone is a suicide mission. I can’t face it by myself. I need him, in spite of everything said and unsaid between us, I need Chase.
“One day Zeke,” I turn to face him, my eyes shining through in determination, “One day I’m going to be back out there in the line-up.” I assure him, feeling confident in myself and abilities for once. “I know it.”
‘The world’s not that bleak, I promise.’
Caleb’s talk had done wonders for me. He’d said some significant stuff among all his insignificant stuff - yet still, I listened. Now, I’m doing the practical part where I apply his suggestions to my life. Life has been unfair to me, but I’m done using the past as a scapegoat from the inevitable future. I don’t have to live in the center of the storm if I wish not to. I can paddle out of the dark tunnel, knowing with certainty that there’s a light on the outside.
Zeke nods, “Me too.” I raise a brow at him, probing for an explanation and so he gives one, “You’re Gabriela Hill, you can do anything you set your mind to. You’re not seeking a wave, you’re seeking a new lease on life. Even if you were to surf again, it won’t change anything until you choose to change on the inside.”
Zeke’s always been very straight forward with me and I’ve always appreciated it.
“Yeah.” I say quietly, agreeing for the most part, “I know.”
Zeke pats me on the shoulder softly, “You can do it.”
I grin, but end up turning my back on the ocean in spite of my need to get back out there. Now is not the right time, but that doesn’t mean that there will never be a right time. I’ll get there someday. Like Caleb said, I just have to keep on.
I reach for a longboard for the customer, but I’m unable to reach it.
Chase, impatient, snaps at me as he allows his temper to get the best of him, “Just let me do it!”
Gone is the patient Chase I’d come to know in the past few months.
Things between us are still tense and I don’t how to retrace our steps. I’ve reached the point where I wonder if being friends is even worth it. Sometimes I think we’re better off without each other. But my heart says a whole other story.
He reaches over me before I can even step out of his destructive path. I stiffen when I feel him come up from behind me, his chest just brushing against my back. I swallow before sucking in a deep breath of air, my lungs just about collapsing due to the close proximity. I turn around to face him and hopefully escape him, but what I’m not expecting is to find his eyes cast not on the board above, but on me.
Glancing down, he shifts slightly as if to offer me some more breathing space. The backroom of the surf shack happens to be cluttered, with very little space as is. My breathing noticeably hitches when his eyes drift toward my lips, his previous anger dissipating under my locked gaze. His entire expression softens as if he’d forgotten why we were fighting to begin with. Even in my mind, the memory is foggy. It’s difficult to think straight when he’s looking at me like this, his sea blue eyes filled with sincerity.
He takes the initiative to lean forward and angle himself correctly, but I’m quick to turn my face away from his before he even gets the chance to pull a move on me. Offense creeps into his eyes as he clears his throat and steps back from me awkwardly.
I just turned him down.
I avoid his eyes and penetrating gaze as I look unto the floor of the surf shack instead. I’m not ready to take the next step with him when we can barely tolerate each other. Being with him is unpredictable and the unpredictable frightens me. Without clearing up the confusion, I take the easy route out, grabbing the longboard out from under his cool fingertips as I walk past him, back to the front where the customer awaits us.
All the while, I can feel him staring holes into my back.