When I was a kid, my Dad and I spent nearly every second of summer on the sparkling sandy beaches near our home in Cronulla. We would dance shin-deep in the ice-cold surf, kicking up the water so that the droplets shone like diamonds in the rays of sunlight. We sat back and gazed at the sky as I pondered about how the swirling clouds were able to take on such remarkable shapes. We would grip imaginary weapons and fight to the death, swinging daggers and thrusting cutlasses like the most violent of fantasy pirates.
Fire in the hole! I would scream, while armed with a deadly ball of wet sand. These blissful days went on and on, a never-ending cycle of cerulean skies, frozen forever within my mind. My earliest memories were filled with images of my Dad in these moments, laughing as he kicked up the warm sand while twirling a shiny golden compass around his middle finger. And, now, as I stand here on the same sand, feeling the same heat radiating under my feet, almost ten years later, I can’t help but think of him.
I cant help but think of him, and all the pain that he, and everyone around him, suffered during the worst years of his life.
To the world, my Dad was a historian. To me, he was an explorer. My Dad would often venture out into mysterious lands for weeks and months on end before returning home, tales of epic encounters and sparkling treasures flying off his tongue. I listened eagerly, taking every word as fact. Although, I never hid my hatred of his frequent trips. Why do you have to go again”, I once asked, gripping the side of my Mums skirt in my tiny fist. “If I don’t go, then what stories could I tell them”.
“Whoever asks. If anyone were to ask me how I lived my life, the last thing I want is for my tale to be dull. He winked. Looking back, I knew now that the truth behind my Dads stories was never quite as thrilling. In each trip he made, he always looked for the same thing, the same wreckage he believed was buried somewhere beneath the sea. It was his obsession. His life’s work had all been spent on attempting to find it. His dark study overflowed with dusty, old books on the subject. Massive maps were draped across every timber surface. Whenever he was home, I sat outside the door, my knees pulled up tight to my chest, and I listened. His heavy sighs and the sound of seeped through the walls. I was never allowed inside his room when he was home, although my imagination flooded my mind with images of my Dad bent over cryptic clues and riddles, his brow rutted as he cracked each one. Every now and again, he would let out a shout and burst through the door, joyfully picking me up and spinning me around in excitement. We would dance around the living room, my Dad swinging his golden compass around his pinkie and singing blissfully. Though, those moments grew fewer and farther between as time went on. Even so, he routinely found time for our annual summer adventures. That is until he forgot we had our tradition.
I remember the first time I truly realised what had happened when the child inside me faded from existence. Maybe some small part of me had known for a while, but I had concealed it, concealed the knowledge of his sickness. I was too afraid to think of my Dad as human, something which could conclude at any moment. His great voyages out into the ocean ceased, and his time at home seemed to last an eternity. He entrenched himself in his study, consumed by his work. His disease rooted itself deep within his mind and grew, branching out and rupturing every memory with its thorns. It became a giant tidal wave that crashed through his mind and washed away all other concerns and everything that was important, including me and my Mum. He became cruel, fanatical with finishing his work and finding the wreckage before it was too late. He would slam the study’s door open, look down at my small frame and thrust a pale, slender arm towards the living room. “Go away!” He would yell. “l can hear you breathing and it’s pissing me off!”
“He’s just stressed”. My Mum had assured. “He’ll be back to normal once he finishes his work. But I knew he would never again be the Dad I once adored. The explorer of my dreams. Now, he was nothing more than a bitter old man, obsessed with reading the thousands of post-it notes he had plastered around his study, each wailing back to him the fragments of information he had long forgotten. Each day it became worse and worse. He became violent and continuously belittled my Mum. To him the culprits were obvious, it was either the menopause or the devil. To us, it was him and his addiction.
One day in the dead of winter, my Mum and I heard a loud crash sounding from within my Dads study. What do you want from me! Where is my treasure! he roared. We bolted over, pounding on the door with the sides of our fists. He emerged from within, sweat pooling down the sides of his sallow face. On the wooden desk behind him, the shiny golden compass lay defeated, its point fixed toward a dusty photo covered in post-it notes. The frames decorative edging peppered with glitter and halfpipe-shaped macaroni. Three (photo of the family) (hugs us, etc.) (RESOLUTION!)
(photo of family needs to be powerfully described for resolution)