Recently, I’ve had to complete three months of weekly sessions with a social worker to prepare for upcoming bariatric surgery. As part of the process, we talked about activities that I can commit to doing that keep my hands and mind busy. During those three months I saw something on Facebook; it was a post about an upcoming, local short story competition. I’ve had an idea for a short story swirling around in my brain since late summer (a confluence of things I’d heard or seen, and the resulting thoughts and feelings) and I considered submitting it. It’s not that I think I would have any chance of winning it but I wanted to do it as a challenge. There are so many ways in which I’m comfortable “putting myself out there”, but there are a few that are very uncomfortable for me and I’m trying to learn to face those. Sharing a story or a poem makes me feel much more vulnerable than sharing how I’m feeling. I decided not to enter the competition for no other reason than not wanting to deal with the entrance paperwork and fees right now. I’m learning not to take on too much when I’m feeling overwhelmed. For me, the real “win” would have been to face the fear of sharing it, so I decided I could do that right here. So, if you’re reading this (and, subsequently, the following story) then you are helping me overcome one of my fears. Thank you for supporting me in that way.
IN OUR NATURE:
“Don’t play too near to the shore”, Ceta’s mother, Kohola, warned as Ceta finished her milk. “I want you back before sunset so we can enjoy dinner together”. Kohola watched Ceta go, wary of letting her young daughter play on her own, and she gave her a long wave to let Ceta know she’d be watching her from a distance. “Be safe, little one”, Kohola called after her in a soft voice. Ceta was thrilled at the opportunity to explore the coastline near her family’s summer home in the Pacific Northwest of British Columbia. The summer home had been in Ceta’s family for generations but it was her first time visiting and she planned to explore every bit of it.
Near to the shore she found the ocean was teeming with life. There were starfish, and all kinds of seaweed, and plenty of little creatures with hard shells that would scurry around at her presence. Ceta was gentle with them, for her mother had taught her to be respectful of all living things. “But, Momma”, Ceta had wondered out loud to Kohola recently, “If we respect all living creatures why do we eat some of them?”. “It is in our nature, Ceta”, Kohola answered patiently, never seeming to tire of Ceta’s demanding thirst for knowledge. “Everything gives life to something else. The cost of every living thing comes at the expense of something else. There is no escaping this truth, and so we must do our best to respect all living things as our equals, and be thankful for our full bellies”. Ceta wasn’t always entirely satisfied with the answers that Kohola provided, but Ceta had inherited her mother’s patience and so she learned to accept the answers knowing that she’d understand more about the world when she was older.
Ceta spotted a sea gull circling overhead. It called out and Ceta thought maybe the gull was talking to her, but she knew it was probably calling to its friends about some delicacy it had spotted. Ceta wished she could talk “sea gull”, but she couldn’t easily mimic the screeching cries of the gull with her sweet, young voice so she whispered songs to herself instead. Ceta loved music and her mother told her she inherited that from her father, Chord. Ceta had no reason not to believe Kohola, but Ceta hadn’t seen her father in months, and she could barely remember the sound of his voice. Ceta had only her mother’s word as proof but that was the soundest proof of all, really.
Ceta’s parents met in Hawaii. Kohola would spend the winters entertaining passengers on cruise ships. The passengers clapped and cheered at the enthralling ways in which she could move her strong body in a display of dance. On days when the ships were docked, Kohola would explore around the islands and it was on one of those days that she met Chord. He was immediately taken with her. He would sing to her in that slow, low voice of his and she would sway her splendid body to the music that came from some profound place inside of him. They would scout the shorelines together, sunning their backs and enjoying the warmth on their bellies as they swam in the salty water. But love is like salt; sometimes salt preserves but sometimes it erodes even the strongest of foundations. By the time Kohola realized she was pregnant, Chord had disappeared for the season and it wasn’t until nearly a year later that she saw him again.
When Kohola presented Ceta to Chord he showed little interest in either of them but Kohola softened the blow by filling Ceta’s world with love and tender care. Once, Kohola took Ceta to hear Chord sing. Even from a distance, Ceta could hear her father’s voice wash over her in warm waves that made her feel drowsy and wistful. “Why doesn’t dad want to know me?”, Ceta whispered to Kohola. “It’s in his nature”, Kohola said, which was a phrase she used often but that was the first time she’d said it to Ceta and it confused her with its newness. Ceta tried to press Kohola for more, but Kohola told her to be grateful for the love in her life. “Be grateful for your Aunties. Be grateful for your cousin, Nova. Be grateful for the light of the full moon”. Ceta wanted practical answers, but she sensed that maybe the not-knowing that hurt her also hurt Kohola so, instead, she whispered to her mother in the dark about how much she loved her cousin Nova, and her Aunties, and most especially how much she loved Kohola.
Something about Chord’s song sounded simpler the last time Kohola heard it. She didn’t know whether his songs had changed or she had. Maybe it was both. Kohola tried not to think about it. Instead, she busied herself with raising her daughter and being grateful that she was so close to her own sisters and niece. She would never be truly alone or without love because she was surrounded by other strong females–family that would love her, protect her, help her raise her daughter just as she helped raise and love her niece. It was better to focus on the daily moments of joy.
Kohola waved to Ceta as way of checking in. Ceta waved back, happily splashing and exploring. The noise of a nearby speed boat startled them both but it quickly veered off in a different direction and soon the only sounds were ocean sounds again and Kohola and Ceta were content to enjoy the warmth of the sun. Kohola was glad to have this special place that she could bring Ceta so that she could enjoy the same sights, and exploration, and food that Kohola had enjoyed when she was young. Kohola noticed the changes in this special place, though. Every year there was more garbage bobbing around in the ocean and littering the beaches. The temperatures were changing and some of her favourite types of seafood were becoming scarce. Kohola didn’t mind so much for herself—she had faced change and loss before–but she sometimes worried about what the future would hold for Ceta and Nova. Would they continue to spend summers here in the future? Would they bring their own sons and daughters here? Kohola’s thoughts were interrupted by Ceta who had returned to her and was full of whispers and giggles about all of the things she had seen that day. As always, Ceta was hungry.
Soon, Ceta’s aunts and cousin would join her and Kohola for an evening meal. It was such a pleasure to be together at this time of day with the sun low in the sky and reflecting off the water in great orange waves of light like ribbons rippling out to sea. Kohola lifted a flipper and waved Ceta closer, inviting her to nurse. She arched her long back so that her dorsal fin glistened in the sun. As Ceta drank, Kohola continued to ponder change, and the future, and her blessings.