Godless Mom learned to surf in gym class in Australia. We used to hop on a bus and drive out to Trigg Beach or Swanbourne Beach depending on the surf. We’d get our wetsuits on, lay in the sand and practice popping up on our boards. After a while, our instructor would take us out past the break, where we would mostly sit and wait our turn to ride a wave. Surfing was hard, but it was the best thing about school in Australia by miles and I wouldn’t trade the fact that I learned (and I use this term loosely) to surf on powdery white beaches on the Indian Ocean for anything.
Riding home on the bus was always a sandy, sticky affair as there were no showers at the beach. With a film of salt clinging to our bodies and sand stuck in places we didn’t even know we had, we sat on hot vinyl school bus seats in discomfort all the way back to school. Our bus driver was kind enough to let us listen to music, and it was on one such morning that I heard it.
I had an awful time in Australian schools, with bullies and racists and just horrendous people. They didn’t like anyone who appeared to be different than them, and my accent made me different. To them, I sounded American and they appeared to have a hatred for Americans that I just couldn’t seem to break past. It was so bad, it eventually led to me dropping out for the remainder of my year in Australia. I was very unhappy at school, save for my time with my best friend Mel, another outcast because they were sure she was Aboriginal, even though she’d been from Papua New Guinea. I was miserable and angry and refused to speak to anyone on the bus to the beach, because most of them had already been awful to me.
Some days the trip to the beach was worse than others. On the particular day in question, heading to the beach, I was the target of non-stop jokes about Canada and about being best friends with an Aboriginal girl. I kept my mouth shut and my eyes ahead. I let my thick, blond hair fall into my face so the other kids couldn’t see the whites of my eyes turn red. I slumped down in my seat and picked at my fingernails as I forced the anger and the sadness down inside me every time I felt it coming back up.
Looking back, I wish I knew I could handle the jokes. I wish I had known they were just jokes, and it had no reflection on me and who I was. I’d give anything to be able to go back and tell that sad girl that it wasn’t her problem, it was theirs, and the best way to get back at them would be to hold your head high and use every joke as a reason why you’re just simply a far better person than each and every other kid on that bus. Alas, I cannot… and so, this is my memory. Gut-rotting misery.
That day, out in the ocean I found solace as I always do. Water was, is and always will be the source of my peace. It gently rocked me on my board, as I sat in the beating rays of the sun, my legs dangling into the deep, blue abyss. I’d dip my cupped hand in the warm, salt water and splash it on my face. Weightlessness and the gentle sounds of the Ocean licking the sides of my board. When it was my turn to go, I lay on my board and felt the silky water slip between my fingers as I paddled faster and faster. The wave lifted me up and in a quick, sudden movement, I jumped to my feet and put my arms out for balance. Pumping the board up and down, it began to pick up speed and I felt my hair whipping behind me. My board began to tip to one side and I tried to make up for it by moving to the other side slightly. I went too far. I fell with a splash and felt my foot tugging on my ankle strap, so I flipped over. I floated there a moment, below the surface of the water in the quiet of the sea, looking up at the sun beating down in columns of liquid light. It was so peaceful. If I only I could take that peace with me when I got out of the water.
Finally, needing air, I emerged from my hiding place in the deep ocean and no sooner than that, I heard “What do you expect? She’s Canadian. You can’t surf in the snow!”. I paddled in and sat in the sand and took silent pleasure in watching almost all of my classmates fail to even stand on their boards.
The sticky, uncomfortable trip back was no different than the ride to the beach. Jokes, whispers and sneers. I pressed against the window and watched the streets of Perth pass me by… and then… then I heard it.
“Load up on guns…”
I’d never heard a voice like this before….
“Bring your friends…”
He sounded sad.
“It’s fun to lose or to pretend…”
I sat up in my seat and strained to hear every word.
“She’s over bored and self assured, Oh no, I know a dirty word…”
I had no idea what the name of the band was or who was singing. I vowed to find out, though. In pre-Shazam – heck, pre-internet – times, this was a lot more difficult.
After I had finally had enough of the bullying and dropped out of school, I would study at home everyday and then take the bus to either the beach or the mall, depending on the weather. The mall had a music store that I would frequent, with listening booths to check out newly released albums. It was one of my favourite things to do.
One thundery afternoon, I took the bus to the music shop, knowing the rain was coming and the infamous Perth lightning would be pummelling the rooftops of Southwest Australia. I trudged from the bus stop towards the music shop, and I could smell the electricity in the air. A rumble in the distance made the ground shake as I picked up my pace. Rounding the corner to the shop, I looked up and saw a new poster in the window that intrigued me. A submerged baby boy, who appear to be swimming after a dollar bill on a hook. “Wonder what that is”, I asked myself and headed in.
I’d gotten to know the clerk, Geoff, in this particular store somewhat and headed up to the counter to ask him about the poster I just saw.
“Holy crap, Canada!” Geoff’s face was glowing. It appeared no matter where I went, I couldn’t escape that nickname. “You gotta hear this. It’s a beaut! Never heard a thing like it before!”
Geoff led me to a listening booth and set up the CD. He handed me the album case and said, “Let ‘er rip.”
I pushed play and my heart instantly skipped a beat. I recognized this song! It was the song from the bus on that awful day at school. I listened to the pained voice and felt my heart swell. Remembering I had the CD case in my hand, I flipped it over and looked down.
For 68 minutes I sat there as my world changed. Some people don’t understand how music or art or a great piece of writing can literally change your world, and I feel sorry for those people… because right there, my world changed in 68 minutes. This time, I let myself cry. This band, this album, this singer, could not have possibly have entered my life at a better time. I was renewed and head over heels in love with a sound.
I’d discovered that awful feelings can be channeled into something beautiful. I realized that feeling like crap was a great excuse to create. I was suddenly aware that I wasn’t alone in my sadness and that it didn’t need to be a bad thing. I felt rescued. I felt alive. I felt powerful. I finally smiled.
Thunder cracked overhead as a purchased Nevermind and walked to the bus. The skies opened up and unleashed a torrent of hot rain. My hair was instantly soaked and pasted to my face and water droplets were forming at the end of my nose. I was soaked to the bone in just a few minutes of this typical Perth rain.
I reached for my umbrella, and realized I’d forgotten it. Normally, I would swear at myself for forgetting something… But on this day I simply didn’t care. There is no other way to say it except that on this day, this rainy, thunderous day, I had found Nirvana.
This post is part of Atheist Life Hacks, a series of stories about my life. Read others in the series here.
Image: Creative Commons/Pixabay