When I was a kid, I loved fishing with my dad. We’d go out to Jones Beach and set up lines along the pier, throw a crab cage into the ocean. For the fish, we had worms that we’d buy at a little shack on the way to the beach, and we had those fancy, shimmery plastic bait, too. Usually we’d sit for a couple hours, until he’d drank a few beers and felt too hot in the sun. The best was if we caught some crab, and he’d let them loose on the dock so me and Spencer and Ally could chase them around.
I idolize my father. I do now and I did then. Back then he was very mysterious to me. A man who came to America from Poland at 15 years old, not speaking a word of English, became a Marine, married a Polish woman, worked in his sister’s hair salon in Queens, had a son, divorced the Polish woman, met my mom in the hair salon, married my mom, became a Police detective in Suffolk County, and had me, my brother and sister.
He wasn’t around a whole lot. He worked nights every other fortnight. When he wasn’t working he went to the bar alone, to just sit there and drink beer, or, do things less innocent, likely. If he was home he was sleeping or fighting with my mom. He was villainized a lot, and my allegence was to my mom, but I still worshipped him. He was fun and brave and sociable and worldly. But he was also scary and had a quick temper. He gave me funny nicknames like Peachka and Lola. He was my protector. He’s the reason for this.
That’s me. Four years old, not afraid of anything. What could hurt me with my dad by my side? What would even dare to try?
When I visited Jed in Mexico in April he tried to take me spearfishing. I was really excited. He gave me a wetsuit and water shoes that both belonged to his 6′ tall male friend, who he said had likely peed in the wetsuit dozens of times. He gave me the spear and the snorkel and told me that once we got past the rocks, start swimming, dive under the waves, and when you see a fish, tighten the elastic grip on the spear handle and then release it quickly. Once you spear a fish, it might be a struggle, but wriggle the spear a bit and swim, dragging it back to shore.
Cool. I’m not afraid of anything.
I couldn’t get past the rocks. The shoes kept falling off my feet and the rocks were huge, completely lining the ocean floor for what looked like a mile. I was slipping and kept falling on my ass. Jed made it looks insanely easy, flying over them. I was so frustrated and angry. I gave up. My feet were completely cut up, he said from barnacles on the rocks. Thinking about it now, my body heats up. That was day three in Mexico.
He took me surfing the first day. Disastrous. Granted, I’ve been told post that the waves in Mexico are not for beginners, but it was the same feeling I’d return to two days later. I was unsure and unstable and my own brain said no, somehow against my will.
The day I got back to New York, I signed up for three surf lessons in Far Rockaway, spaced out from the end of May through the end of June. I’m not going to just not be able to do something. I have to prove to myself that I can. I’m brave, like my dad. I can do anything.
Yesterday I tried to go to my first lesson and missed it. I was 15-minutes late, so I rescheduled. On the way, some kid on the street chased me down to ask for my number. He told me I look Latin. The Spanish apps must be working.
The only other time I went out to Far Rockaway, which takes about an hour to get to by subway, was with Chelsea and Sarajane. Some weird guy followed us for five full blocks repeatedly screaming, “Riddle me this, riddle me that!” It’s funny that the only other time I was there was with Sarajane.
I’m back on my way now, for my actual first surf lesson.
Update: I stood! Several times. My instructor Jeff with Skudin Surf was great. I fucking knew I could do it.