The strongest memory I have as a tiny human child is that of being sprayed with water, directly in my face, with a hose. This visceral image is hard to erase, for it characterises subsequent years and begs the question: why was I being hosed down with the force field of litres and litres of water? Where were the water conservation laws we all know and love? What dirt did I have on the other kids for them to torture me so?
And yet to the trained eye, it wasn’t torture at all. Instead it was reprieve from the swell summer heat which engulfed you as a 90s child growing up in Sydney We didn’t have a pool and we never got around to buying that air conditioner we were always promised (‘we live in a brick house, it’s cooler than most houses. HERE, HAVE THIS USELESS FAN!’)
We had to make do with whatever available cooling method we had at the time. This meant coming up with a variety of activities like running through the sprinklers in your cossie in a kind of ‘dodge the water, but not really, I love you water!’ game, eating ‘sunny boy’ ice blocks, playing ‘Olympics’ by pretending to swim on the ground (‘MY ELBOWS!!’), pretending to go ice skating on mopped floors, making our ice blocks from those plastic things you filled with tropical juice and then abandoning it for the ice cream truck outside. Putting pillows under our clothes to go ‘scuba diving’ and using lego as snorkel masks. You know, normal every day kid stuff (except for that last one, not really sure what we were thinking there).
Our backyard had no fence, only tall pine trees about 10 metres tall. It was like our own private forest sanctuary, to do as we pleased, like pitch tents and pretend we were camping because it was too hot inside. The nights were harder to ignore with our jovial idiosyncrasies. Wearing as little clothing as possible, I remember lying on the tiles with the fan on full blast, crying out for someone to feed me a watermelon, and would it kill you to cut up a mango?
As a 24-year-old, I’m starting to appreciate just how blissfully unaware we were to reality. I can still smell burning trees and remember how every now and again there was a heavy fog from the smoke. And yet we’d just shrug it off, despite living moments from the bush. We didn’t watch the news, that annoying show your parents tried to watch instead of The Simpsons. Bushfires? Nah. Some other day.
Fast forward to 2013 and it’s predicted to be 43 degrees tomorrow and everyone is in a panic – as though they’ve never seen a day like this before, even though this day was our childhood. I wanted to escape the summer holidays in Australia this year and instead pretend to be a Hobbit in New Zealand. I had this fear that if I stayed, I would fall into a mundane and sad pattern, one that sees people eating ice cream and watching movies at 10am in the morning, crying ‘nobody loves me!’ (look, it was just that one time). But alas my fate was to be here in a city so familiar; I stopped believing it could give me the same summer-y sustenance in adulthood.
And then, an awakening. It began with a Christmas of nostalgia, coupled with the grown up goodness of drinking a 70% alcoholic moonshine-esque spirit and a $300 bottle of Whisky between my uncles, my male cousins and us two girls. OH HELLO CHRISTMAS, sang drunk Tiny. This year they even remembered to buy the prawns and seafood, so it really did feel like Christmas down under. There was a balmy, humidity to the air and a slight chance of rain. I felt sad for reasons entirely separate to this day. It reminded me of how summer is that awkward time where you feel obliged to be happy and how can you not, when everything is so golden and perfect? And yet the sadness internalises somehow, sits below the surface and feels heavier despite the lightness in your soul and in your feet.
This year summer started to creep back into that old gal it used to be, salsa dancing back into our hearts and shimmying right back into the thin cotton dresses that hung loosely on the body. There’s an air conditioner in the future too. No more lying on cool tiles (unless you’re hungover). There was that night after burning hot tacos (‘it tastes like burning!’), where, laden with tequila, gin, pizza and frozen margaritas, we left the last bar at 3am only to find ourselves in cabs headed east to a harbourside beach closed off by a half circle jetty and with a floating platoon in the middle for jumping off. We stripped bare and ran into the cold water, letting it sober us up enough to remember how the hell the night went. There’s nothing like this, I remember thinking, nothing like an ocean all to yourself, waking your heart up with a few splashes.
Then a voice calls out from the shore.
‘Girls, I need you to come out of the water’
‘Who the hell is that guy?’
‘I’m the police’.
Abated with bashfulness, my best buddy and I paddled a little closer while the other two female comrades were standing on the tip of the platoon, half preparing to dive towards the shore, half ready to turn the other way and escape to the ocean. I heard one whisper,
‘Do we jump or dive? Or slide in gracefully?’
The police officer explained in an amused tone that we could keep swimming, we just needed to keep the noise down because of the residents. He said he wished that he could have been swimming with us instead of telling us to keep quiet but alas, he could not. There there, sweet man of the blue uniform, I’m sure our paths will cross again some day soon. Remember our naive and joyful cries then!
And so we went and dived and splashed into the darkness, more subdued this time, feigning quiet, feeling the heaviness sink to the bottom and the lightness lifting us up.
Drying off the next day and then recovering with a two day hangover, I accompanied the loveliest boy to the Moonlight Cinema to see The Master, (it was masterful). Every now and again you could see the fireflies dancing across the screen and in our vision. Bats flew overhead and the fresh air was sublime.
It seemed as though all the moments were created at the same time, somehow tumbling around each other in a steady stream: sitting on a great big rock, perched above the cove, eating a seafood basket and drinking lemonade from a vintage can, diving into the water face first, cold, perfect. Sitting on a rock eating a frosty fruit ice block, dripping down one hand. Gigantic waves crashing around your head and you don’t even care, you need reprieve from the scorching hot sand burning your feet. You dive deep and quick and only return for air before diving again like some kind of ceremonious, manic baptism. You feel the slight tinge of sunburn now on your nose, feel the freckles spreading across your face as you linger in the calmer rock pool with an insidious yet strong current taking you back to shore. You swim against the current like a crazy puppy, realising how futile it is but not caring, digging your feet into the sand and spreading your arms out, as though the water is the wind and you’re being swept off your feet.
You eat hot chips during the day and only mangoes at night.
You get home only to feel restlessness again. Your feet are aching to wander. Still wearing a light cotton white dress and having not yet showered from the beach, you hop on your bicycle and peddle to a friend’s house, someone who needs you now more than you need your own solitariness. A taxi tries to run you over. You kick it from the safety of the bicycle. You emerge unscathed, turning into a plethora of tiny lanes masquerading as streets! You are lost but giddy and at some point when you find the right street, you wonder if you can pump the air with your fist, or would that be too silly after the near death taxi experience you just survived? You pump the air anyway, triumphantly. Shut up Taxi driver, I win!
You drink gin and tonic garnished with lemon and ice in a jam jar with icy cold precipitation, pressing it against your flushed face while your girlfriends bake pies and talk about love and hilarious heartache. You eat German chocolate, drink tea and laugh while their drunk housemate eats an entire roast chicken while standing up, not wanting to sit on the special chair in case he gets chicken on it.
You start to ride home, only to realise you forgot your glasses. Your best friend laughs at you as you come rolling back, the blind girl on the bicycle. You drive dangerously on the empty streets, glancing at the balconies adorned with fairy lights and leafy trees obscuring their contents.
They say that tomorrow is going to be 43 degrees and you think,
Come at me 43 degrees. I was born inside you.