Work in Progress

Today, I had the chance to run over the surf asshole. He’d fallen off his board right in front of me, when I was already catching the wave.

I didn’t. I veered to the right (on a left breaking wave) , stayed on my knees, didn’t stand till I was past him, then broke left and rode down the line.

Of course, I wouldn’t have hit him. But I truly enjoyed the three seconds when I thought I could.

I don’t really know surf asshole, other than knowing he’s a relatively good surfer. He’s good enough that he should be surfing South Point, or Drill Hall, not lording over the beginners at the easiest break on the island. I’ve only spoken to him once, sort of. Our only interaction was when, after I’d waited for the whole lineup to catch their wave, he’d paddled past me and taken what was clearly MY wave. And then had yelled at me.

No stopping this time

Not just yelled at me in the moment, but made a point of paddling back by and castigating me again— I’d been here a year, I should have known better!

And all I could do was say, each time, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

I didn’t ignore him. I didn’t argue. I didn’t point out that it was actually my wave, and he was the jerk. I felt sick, and I had to force myself to go back out and surf for the next week, maybe two, thinking I would run into him again.

Now, three months later, I understand. I am ashamed that I fell back into my old patterns. I “knew,” from my 30 years with my ex, from growing up with an alcoholic father, that there was no recourse. You couldn’t argue, or use logic. When a man was angry, all you could do was try to mollify.

I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

Never mind if you hadn’t done anything wrong. Never mind that you didn’t know what they were angry about. Never mind that it didn’t make any sense.

I’m sorry.

Please stop yelling. Please don’t hit me.

I remember, when I was 11 or 12. Rachel*, our neighbour a few houses down, ran up on our steps screaming, her husband chasing after her.

“Lempi, help me, help me!!” she called to my mother.

My mother hushed my sister and me, didn’t turn on the light. I think my father was at work, night shift. And Rachel’s husband dragged her home, off our steps.

I remember my mother’s upset. Not at Sammy,* but at Rachel. You didn’t do that. You kept it in the house. It’s your failing if you can’t manage your husband, so he doesn’t beat you.

My mother hadn’t always been so successful. I remember when I was 5, when we slept in a motel room with police guarding the door, because in the 60s when an important man threatened to kill his wife, you removed the wife and children from the family home, not the husband. Especially if he’d put the gun down, thrown the bullets out the window, demanded to speak to his lawyer. And when I was 7, she went back to him, because he said he’d changed and because being a single mother was too hard.

I thought I was free. I thought I was just fine. But sometimes I wonder if I will ever truly escape my past. I was an independent, educated, successful woman 30 years ago, when I married my ex. I thought he was nothing like my father. After all, he wasn’t an alcoholic. He didn’t hit me. And yet, as the years went by, our relationship became more and more like that of my parents. When I’d confided in him, in that heady first year, the occasional terror of my childhood, I thought he was reassuring me that I was safe, not that he was tucking it away in his toolbox, to bring out and use a few years later.

I could have run over surf asshole. But I didn’t.

And I let go of one more thread of who I used to be.

* Names changed out of respect for their grandchildren.

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