Women and the ocean – or, a love letter to my mum
My brother and I are standing on the front of a catamaran, holding onto the railing. I think I’m about 9 and he’s 7. But actually I feel like my judgement on this is quite poor. I feel like my dad took the picture, but I don’t remember him being there.
It’s after school, because we’re in our uniforms, and because I remember anticipating this special treat and waiting for mum to pick us up – it was a sunset harbour cruise. Darwin is known for its stunning orange sunsets. But the photograph is mostly blue – my checkered uniform, the sea behind us an alluring aqua, the sky much darker, without clouds.
I think the occasion might have been my godmother in town from Melbourne. Lucy, loud, cuddly Lucy – a woman I always looked forward to seeing, one of my mum’s best friends. I was fascinated by their friendship, a friendship between two women, particularly. There was something so desirable about that bond, even though at the time I was miles away from being there myself. They were so comfortable, they’d share a bottle of wine and talk about things I’d one day come to understand and discuss with my own friends – things, at the time, I hoped I’d talk about with such apparent sophistication, when I grew up.
And here’s one of those moments where I peer into a memory and can’t be sure whether what I remember is true, or just put together with the pieces I have in front of me. I know it was humid because of the location. But when I look at this photo, I see my brother and I sitting right up at the front of the vessel – so that as we look out, all we see is the ocean, no distractions, and we may as well be floating along above it – I smell the salty air unmistakably, I feel a fine, ocean spray landing on my skin. I see myself closing my eyes, feeling weightless, the afternoon air fills my lungs spectacularly.
Maybe moments like these are why I am so emotionally trigged by the smells and sounds of the sea – they take me instantly back to a gloriously nature-filled childhood.
I distinctly remember a glass of champagne – maybe in my mum’s hand. Those hands, her fingernails stronger than mine will ever be, faint freckles, large pores. Hands that held me, smooth hands that lovingly washed my feet, sitting on the edge of the bathtub after I’d been playing in the garden and it was time for dinner.
They make me think of her character. My mum is small, no desire to be the centre of a room like Lucy. But she’s always exuded a strong sense of stability to me. Always struck me as someone who truly knows and respects who she is, what she stands for, where she draws the line.
Perhaps on the boat, giddy in my own after school, seafaring freedom, I felt a surge of love for this woman, remembering how happy, how motherly, how womanly she was in that moment. But then again, maybe I’m just feeling that now when I look back.