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August 5, 2019 | by  | in Features | [ssba]


CW: Mental Illness, Suicide, Substance Use



I’m thinking about my first solo swim at Mawhitipana Bay when I was five. A huge adventure for little limbs, quite quickly I was pulled into deeper waters, but despite the salt in my stomach there were so many days after school I would wade through the same water, tracing the blue and green through my rocky kingdom. Sometimes I would sit in my father’s small fishing boat, fingers tracing what may well have been the last beating of recorded time, just listening to the world spin. Not a care for the days spent washing salt out of my hair.


But the Hauraki Gulf of my childhood was the first sea I knew, and this second sea is different. It is a brisk, bracing, blue. The rain and wind mean that as sea and sky collide, I look over at some theorised horizon and feel guilty about my silence. I only think of men who carry gun barrels for arms with hands as weapons. My skin feels harder, tighter. Like them, I feel an overpowering anger to wring out my body’s cloth to see what falls from this tense wrap and wavy weft. But we all know that delicate fabrics are best left to dry flat in the shade.



I’m at a low ebb at the moment, in a sort of discord. It’s turned into some sort of  characteristic and at times indulgent state of severe depression. I’m in a café at the moment, and as I look out at Te Whanganui-a-Tara today, I feel a foreboding sense of compression. I see the water, languid and sardonic, soaking up all available colours; no energy to spit hues back to the sun as on cloudless days. This morning I drink overpriced espresso; later tonight I will drink underpriced wine and end it with a concoction of tramadol, Catholic guilt, and what are only ever the best of intentions. Using substances on the daily to manage the overpowering threat that they wouldn’t even be sad if I died.


But I’ve been trying so hard not to think like that lately. Although maybe expecting good things is its own kind of violence. Right now it feels like a dangerous tendency to live by.



The sea adheres to no rules, which sometimes means succumbing to the riptide. Some days, the wind makes me feel trapped in a small, wooden box hurtling to and fro across the harbor. I’m just trying to keep both feet on the ground but I can feel my stomach folding in on itself. It’s the brooding expanse of Catholic guilt, shame, and good intentions again. I wish high school had given me more of a lesson on how to unstitch and let things go. Maybe then I wouldn’t have been so scared of pulling at the threads that bind, in case I had strings that led to nowhere.  


My sadness still rolled in again, but I happened to catch sight of it in time to turn it into a pardon. It’s these shy lines of progress; made visible with a slanted look, a squint or wink, then there they are. Soft between my words, promises, deep breaths, resolutions, and forgiveness. I see that strip of sun on the horizon and I take my seat on the ferry. I learn from this water of mine one more time, and start my small harmony (it’s all going to be alright).


It’s dark out here on the gulf, and I know that the sea doesn’t adhere to my rules, but I catch sight of a Hauraki headland, a homecoming. Every single time.




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