I was born by the sea. In a fisherman’s house off the northeastern coast of Brazil. Like most seafront villages in this region, we were ruled by seasonality. Summers were crowded, full of foreign bodies and excessive accumulation of trash. It is the time when I have to bathe on the river because water always runs out- our towns were just not made for that many people. Still, they come as surely as the rhythmic tides that mark the hours of our days. During these seasons, mornings are spent helping mother weave embroidery on tablecloths to sell on the main street, whilst afternoons are spent assisting her to cook moqueca for the visitors lodged in our spear bedrooms. Although hectic, we have to be grateful summers exist. That’s what my mom says, at least. Mom is a rather strange woman. She is the youngest of seven children, born into a family cloistered in customs and mannerisms. Being the only girl, she thought to marry her way out was her solution. She met my father during his monthly travel to sell fish in the hinterlands. She ran away with him, her pocket money, and never looked back. All she has left from her parents now, are her looks. I have never met them, although sometimes wish I did. Maybe I would understand her better. It still intrigues me why my mother chose my father and not the cassava trader, for instance. Maybe she really saw windows in his eyes. The aperture through which she could embezzle the turquoise endlessness of freer days. She says she has no regrets in running away with him, and that she would do it all over again. However, she tells me, “You should know better than to marry a fisherman.” I guess she says that because my father disappeared. He went fishing one day and never made it back home. At first she was sure he had left us- got tired of the excessive simplicity we immersed ourselves in. But a few days later the coastal guard called and said they had found parts of his wreck. They asked if we wanted to retain what they had encountered, a tradition many fishing families keep to in order to hold on to their dead. Frame the wreck and display it on the wall to- reify acceptance? My mother says we need to keep our dead dead, so she kindly declined the offering. It all happened when I was 5. I don’t remember much, of my father or the incident. “It’s better this way”, mom says patting me on the back. But I would like to at least know if he had little sun dots coloring his face like I do mine, or if his ears were as tiny as the ones that decorate me. The only photograph we have of him is of the day he finished painting his new boat. Distantly, he’s got his left arm on his hip, his right hand on his heart, his mouth slightly open like he had just said something. Beside him, the boat: Marisol. That’s me. It’s my name, I mean. My name is the clear example of parents who couldn’t compromise on what to call their offspring so they combined wants and made up a new name altogether. My dad wanted to call me Mar, as in Sea, because that is where he found his life’s meaning. But my mother said I shined so bright I left her blind, just like the Sun, o Sol. A build up of I: Marisol. The best memory I have of my father is of the day he took me fishing. In a dry season, we took his boat to deep waters in search of the Jubarte whales. Every year, from August to October, the Humpbacks come nearer to our shores in order to reproduce. Some fishermen boats are strong and delicate enough to approach them without scaring them off. My dad’s was one of this kind. The scene remains inked in my sight. Two cetacean beings, one large, one small, suspending their entire bodies out of the water to the point of puncturing the sky. They rolled their bellies up and swam along us for what seemed an eternity. The calf playfully displayed his young tail while coaxing the adult to cough drops into the air like flocks of shimmering diamonds. These majestical white-lined creatures, sharing the frugality of a spring afternoon with us humans. A combination that could only exist in fiction, I thought.
Winters echo our conventionality, since the rest of the world erases us from their maps, and we are left alone. The lack of tourism and its counterparts closes down commerce and allows dwellers to exercise repetitive rituals. My mother delves her breath in repairs, as she is addicted to fixing anything but herself. Her compulsion leads her to obliviate her surroundings and, by extension, me. Unmoored, I find myself free and thus, dedicate my days to studying the sea. My companions are all cramped into a little duffle bag I carry around. It contains all of my needs. Flashlights, a blanket, the collection of fossilized teeth I’ve been rescuing since I was 9, my journal, a book on myths of the life inhabiting my shores, a pencil, glue. Most nights, I prefer to fall asleep to the cracking of waves instead of returning home. There is a restorative soothingness in winter winds, just a tad cooler than the summer breezes. It’s as if the minor drop in temperature holds the power of foreshadowing hidden longings. The last few nights, I have been lullabied by a gregarious chant. A symphony of high-pitched wailing mixed with spectral moans. They intrigued me, since I was used to hearing these only in spring, with the arrival of the Humpbacks. I wondered what could have happened for them to arrive earlier this year. One morning, my speculations were answered when I woke to a gelatinous touch. When opening my eyes, I conjured a humongous creature lying beside me in the sand. The sliminess seemed to be its stomach rubbing my hand. I got up in a flash: confused, worried, enlivened. ‘Was it stuck?’ I wondered. But it didn’t look like it was in distress. Instead, its eyes seemed to call for me. I stood hesitant, observing as the tides steadily rescued the whale, enveloping her body in large sums of water. I watched it watching me, occasionally opening her mouth, letting delicate melodic notes escape. By the time the sea hit my neck, the whale began approaching me. I felt a burning desire to accompany her, wherever she was bound. A desire that was met with the recollection that I had never learned how to swim. As she came closer, her eyes bearded me insistently. The urge for me to follow her made itself clear through her singing, louder and louder, until my feet were adrift and I had nothing to hold on to apart from her. At this moment, she swam beneath me, picking me up until I was steadily seated on her back. I examined, fascinated, the fist-sized bumps on the top of her head. I let my hands wander across the thick impenetrable leather of her skin. Her details were even more magical than the blueprints in my book. She seemed as though a commissioned masterpiece crafted by an artist whose name I would never learn to pronounce. We swam unhindered, headed straight to the line where the sea meets the sky. Travelling for what felt like hours, losing sight of anything man-made or man-like. Moments later, she anchored in the middle of nowhere and shook me off her back straight into the water. For the first time, I felt hints of fear. Maybe she sensed it, since she gazed at me deeply and began comforting me with a story. I accommodated myself in her left fin, sitting cross-legged with the upper part of my body above the sea as she directed a movie in my mind. The sun shone in a clear blue sky and a little boat roamed the waters. As the wide shot cut into a close up, I saw my own face, unbattered by time. The smallest Marisol being held by hands I could only half-work out in pixelated memories. But now, they were as limpid as daylight. My dad, picking me up to see a baby Jubarte play with their generator. This scene, mimicking the feelings of when I had first lived it, overwhelmed my heart. I stroked my head near my hostess face in a sign of appreciation, dazzled by how she remembered. Betânia, I caught like a gasp in the air. That was her name. Betânia rocked her fin to get my attention once more. This time her pupils went void and dark. Something indicated that she wanted to show me something but was concerned of my reaction. I put my right hand on my heart, took a meaningful breath and shook my head affirmatively. Whatever it could be, I knew it in me I was ready for it. The new film began on the same waters of the one before. The same boat. However, I was not it in now. Only dad. I could see little freckles on his nose and his crooked smile. He looked heroic. He had his fishing gear out, a rod hidden under the wrinkled blueish surface patiently awaiting its prey. His radio was playing on the sole station that functioned in the deep ends. I could hear Gonzaga singing the soundtrack of my brief existence in the background
Eu te asseguro,
Não chore não viu,
Que eu voltarei viu,
Betânia started to become agitated when showing me the following moments. Underwater, a small whale approached my father’s bait and bit it. The creature started to frantically shake its head, trying to get rid of the hook. Although small, the luring device must have gotten stuck in a softer spot inside its mouth. It begun to swim downwards, pulling the nylon in all available directions. The struggle made its body get entangled by the chord, holding its fins captive and inoperative. At the surface, my father’s boat had been damaged by the whale’s reaction and a significant amount of water was pouring in through the newly acquired holes.
“No!!!” I screamed scaring Betânia.
“No, no, no, no, please, no! Dad!! Dad?” I screeched watching as he drowned alongside the little whale.
I pulled myself away from Betânia’s eyes, turning my back on her. My body became immobilized, as I couldn’t bear to be in the same place where it had happened. I couldn’t have the water touch me or try to convince me I needed to let it all go.
Betânia managed to turn me around to face her again. In her own way, she told me she knew how I was feeling. She apologized for having shown me these images, but stated how deserving I was of the truth. She told the ocean had linked our losses and that, even though I thought it, I had never been alone in my grief. Betânia remarked she could feel my heart- how it still managed to beat through the shattering. But urged me to see that this was not a way of living. Her message ended with a final picture. An image of the duffle bag I carried, gathered from the nights she spent watching me making chaotic bricolages out of everything I owned. She showed me and my mother, happily drawing, writing, singing, and walking, at the day’s end, back home, ready to hang the stories of our lives in the empty walls of our house.