The Tail of Growing Up by the Sea

Written By: Alexandra  Chan

I’ve had salty hair and sand underneath my fingernails every summer since age 0. My life has been a-mostly positive- rollercoaster of learning and growing up, but my grandparent’s beach home on Midocean Drive has always been a beautiful constant. I have spent every summer, without fail, splashing and laughing with my cousins in Bridgehampton.

My family affectionately gave me the nickname “water bug” at age 5 because they would have to beg me, often drag me, to come out of the pool to eat lunch. I was always that last kid in the pool.

I loathed the days where thunderstorms and lightning bolts filled the normally blue skies. My mother scolded me when I begged to dip in our pool for just a minute as the thunder claps grew louder. On the rare occasions I couldn’t be swimming due to the weather, I often spent the day sitting at our wooden kitchen table, drawing my heart out.

I poured my dreams into my crayon sketches; my dreams of becoming a mermaid and living in the pool forever.  I read young adult novels about beautiful blonde girls who held their breath for so long, their legs turned to fins and they descended into the perfect world of Atlantis. Now that I look back on it, this probably wasn’t the greatest message to send to young aspiring mermaids. Thankfully, I was smart enough to not try to drown myself, yet innocent enough to allow the stories to give me hope. I think the mermaid dream was the first real goal I had ever set for myself. It seems so silly, but the transformation into a mermaid became my metaphor for allowing myself to aim for the impossible.

At age 11, I finally got bored of the few square feet of pool I had practically lived in during my summers in Bridgehampton. However, a water bug never strays far from her element, as I quickly found a new home in the ocean. I had always been fascinated by the sea, that was quite literally in my grandparent’s summer backyard. What little girl, fascinated with mermaids and ocean critters, wouldn’t dream of the mysteries that the endless sapphire world may hold for her?

My introduction to the secrets of the ocean was not as glamorous as I thought it would be. But then again, milestones are never what they are hyped up to be; just like first dates or passing the permit test, swimming in the ocean for the first time did not set off the fireworks I had imagined. Nevertheless, I still have flashbulb memories from that day.

It was a cloudy Monday morning, sheets of rain had poured onto the gray sea the night prior and I remember waking up early, too excited to fall back asleep. My uncle had promised me that he was finally going to take me swimming in the ocean, with my mother’s blessing at long last. Of course I had dipped my small feet into the hungry waves before this. I remember squealing as they crashed on the shore, running away from the foamy water while desperately wanting it to chase me further into the beach. However, to be able to fully submerge your body in the deep grey liquid seemed to be the most dangerous activity a child could partake in, according to my dear mother. But on this day, she would finally loosen my collar and allow me to plunge into the welcoming arms of my new best friend.

After that day, I learned to have a healthy relationship with my ocean. I loved her, but more importantly I respected her. I understood that she was going to be powerful; sometimes too powerful and angry and would eventually pull me out forever if I did not listen to her tide cycle or weather warnings. The ocean taught me how to listen and understand others. She also showed me the unmatched power of natural forces. She taught me to respect my elders while appreciating the ever-changing landscape of the sea.

One of the most important lessons that I have been taught by the Atlantic is derived from my previous dreams of becoming a mermaid. Now, at age 16, I have aspired to take on different, more practical some may say, roles in life. Today I have dreams of attending university, winning research competitions, making the varsity tennis team, and traveling the world. However, it is hard to ignore a little girl’s innocent and beautiful first dream of becoming a mermaid. When I sit in my bed, the same one where I read my mermaid novels and spent long nights wondering who inhabits the depths of the ocean, I can imagine a younger version of myself. She is so naïve and curious about the world. At times, it is difficult to remind myself, through the whirlwind of life, I am still that girl.

I still wonder what it would be like to trade in my two legs for a shimmering, rainbow tail and endless breath underwater. I believe the greatest lesson the ocean has taught me is that my dreams are always valid. Whether it is a mermaid transformation or winning the Nobel peace prize, I, along with every other young person, deserve to have the highest and most unobtainable dreams possible. Every time I visit the eager waves embracing the shoreline, I have a realization that anything is possible if I put my mind to it.

I figure that  the ocean is deep enough, who says there is no such thing as mermaids?