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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Dip Your Toes in the Water


I remember going to the ocean as a kid and feeling like I was home. At that moment, it didn't matter that I was an Indian kid growing up in America who never felt quite like I fit in. It didn't matter that I was an American who would never quite fit in on the many trips I took to India - back to the country my parents had come from.

At the beach, the ocean seemed so much larger than anything running through my little head. Because even as a kid, my mind could not just sit the hell down. And I don't mean that in a - oh I was always just thinking about so many great ideas, in my pursuit for intellectual nirvana.

I mean it in the way that I wasn't sure where I belonged. Looking back I recognize it for what would be a lifelong journey with insecurity that many people struggle with.

I tell myself that others feel this so I don't feel quite so alone. (Or so crazy).

Things I think a lot of kids like me might have thought - Why don't I look like my friends? Why does my family seem so different from everyone else's? Why are my parents fighting, AGAIN?

You know, the normal shit most kids think about. Apparently, I was starting my lifelong questo to always ask "why?" for things I would never be able to answer, or were, in fact, quite obvious.

When I was at the beach, all of that went away. I smelled the salt water from miles away as we drove in caravans to the crowded shores of New Jersey. I didn't know yet that the rest of the country didn't always hold New Jersey in the highest esteem and had not yet been exposed to a lifetime of "Oh yeah? What exit?" type questions.

Yeah, so cute. And very original.

(Though I have to admit, at least you can get a geographical sense of where one lived in the often misunderstood Garden State. Let's remember that it IS called that, either because there ARE in fact, many gardens there. Or maybe just because we all have complexes about our garden free exits).

The anticipation would course right through me as I would wait. It was a whole lot of waiting, I can remember. Waiting for my parents to meet up with our uncles and aunties in our separate cars so we could caravan to the beach. Waiting for us to haul our station wagons through the Jersey traffic to the ocean. Waiting for the drawbridge that just HAD to pick that moment to be up.

Oh god someone has to pee.

Waiting to find a bathroom. Waiting for us to find a spot where we could lay out the colorful sheets and for the aunties to start arranging the coolers full of roti and sabji. God forbid we ate any of the food from the boardwalk or bologna sandwiches like the family next to us.

In retrospect, all ok - but I don't know. At the time, I just felt so darn strange.

And then finally, FINALLY!!, the waiting was over. I was free. The ocean was right there.

As the crispness of the wind coming off the ocean and the massaging feel of the sand soothed every inch of my being, I felt whole. The "crazy" was still there, but slightly muted in the unmitigated joy I felt, knowing that I would be running into that water in just a few minutes.

And I would remember running up to the water's edge, surrounded by my siblings and cousins, ready to run right in.

But I would stop.

Because the ocean, no matter how much it called to me like it was exactly where I needed to be - was cold. Sometimes colder than I could handle. And I wasn't always ready to be caught in the undertow. The few times that I had gotten caught in a wave still scared me, scared me the way I would never eat my mom's fish curry for fear of that time I got a bone stuck in my throat.

For you see, when you are 5, these things kind of stick with you.

But no matter what - no matter how much I still could hear the thoughts in my head asking why does nobody look like me, why can't I be like everyone else, why do I feel like my family is so broken, why am I surrounded by so much shouting all the time, why, Why, WHY?! - kind of way - I was finally home.

And as I would walk towards the small waves breaking on shore and put my little toes in while the water rushing back to the ocean pulled the ground away from under my feet, I came to realize that for me, life would always be a little of wanting to run towards what I know I couldn't control. That I would want to be in situations where the ground was never quite stable under my feet and where it was okay if things got messy.

The loud crash of the ocean was louder than the clashing voices raised in anger at home, the tears and the heartache I seemed to know too well at the age of 5.

This was the time, MY time, where I was just a normal kid, eating a roti with bhaigan bharta at the beach.

And eventually, once my toes were in the water, I would rejoice in something bigger than me, bigger than I could comprehend and surrender to what I knew I would always have to surrender to.

Home.

Kiran

4 comments:

Recipes from Rama said...

I always felt that to be different you need to learn to be indifferent....that is not always easy.

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webb said...

Ah, Kiren, i was right there with you, but at the "beach", not the "shore", and eating the baloney sandwich at Virginia Beach. But the feelings are the same and well said. Yours was absolutely a different growing-up experience because of your heritage and the blending that you and your family did (both voluntary and probably not so voluntary) along the way, but the reality is that most of feel like outsiders at some time in our lives, especially girls.

It's nice that at those times, we have places like the beach to feel like it just doesn't matter!

roses said...

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