I heard the honk outside, before the phone rang. I ran to the phone, the guard at the gate told me I had friends at the gate, wanting to come in. I wandered outside to meet 3 male friends, all standing by a jeep in my driveway, all dressed in beach clothes and sandals, requesting I head to the beach with them. I wasn’t sure, I wanted to go more than anything, but I still had to get permission from my Father, who at that point, wasn’t allowing me to leave the house except to go to and from school. A month out of living through the coup attempt, he had tightened the reigns, to a more suffocating hold, I had no breathing room, no freedom.
I ran inside to find my Father, he was sitting in his old bright yellow and white stripped t-shirt, his old polyester tennis shorts, which were too short, and my Mother had attempted to throw them out countless times to no avail. He was barefoot, reading his spy novel and smoking his pipe, he looked like he should be sitting on the beach, not in our house. I ran up to him, and quickly asked him if I could go to the beach with friends. He looked up glared at me, raised an eyebrow and asked “which friends?” I told him they were outside, if he wanted to talk to them.
My Father got up, walked outside in his bare feet, all 3 guys had surprised looks on their faces, not sure what to do, they had curious expressions on their faces, and were completely off balance. My Father had a distinct effect on my friends, a man of very few words, and a look that could read someone in a nano second, I rarely had friends who wanted to stick around and hang out at my house, for fear that my father would learn all their secrets. My Father shook all their hands, nodded his head, and turned to me and said “you can go.” I was left a little shocked, I thought it would be a no.
I was thrilled to finally leave the house on a weekend. I quickly ran into the house to get changed and get towels and sunscreen. I wanted to get into the car before my Father said it was all a joke, or that he had changed his mind.
I ran back downstairs and my Father pulled me aside, gave me some money, then asked “which swimsuit are you wearing?’ I looked at him and laughed, pulled up the corner of my shirt and showed him I was wearing a full piece. He looked relieved, and said “good, stay close to Leslie, and make sure you and Patricia don’t leave each other’s side.” I nodded, kissed him and got into the car. I had to laugh, of course my Father had asked what bathing suit I was wearing, he knew if I had been wearing a bikini, I had a crush on one of the boys, and if I was wearing a full piece, it was actually because I was surfing. He knew me all too well.
As we drove away, Leslie laughed and turned and said “I thought your pops always wore a suit, I mean, he doesn’t look diplomatic in shorts and a t-shirt, but he is still the scariest human being!”
I laughed and said “Dad never wears a suit at home, he is wearing his comfort clothes to write his reports later.”
We drove to pick up Patricia and then took the highway to the beach.
We got out the surfboards, and I got my first lesson on a board. My focus was merely to stay afloat, to get footing on the surfboard, to prevent from getting sand burn, or get tossed off the board into the surf and hit a rock. I failed more than a dozen times, washing up on shore with bright red marks all over my legs, the more beaten up I got from the surf, the more determined I got to finally get up. In between, we sat under the palm trees drinking coke and danced Salsa with others on the beach. I breathed for the first time in months, even as I had to hold my breath going under the water, I still felt free.
When we were ready to head home, we drove in the dark, hanging out the window. I put my hands out, feeling the damp ocean breeze, feeling free and 16 for the first time in a long while. My smile broadened, I wanted to freeze that moment, that experience. It was the first taste of feeling like I was normal, that I didn’t have to head to boarding school, that I was safe with friends, that I had my first adventure to the beach. That I wasn’t going to get shot at, or have a bomb drop on me, or that my Father’s vocation had anything to do with me. I was my own person that day, I was just there with friends, learning to surf.
Our drive was a little long, we arrived back at my house, we all scrambled out, slightly burnt, hungry and ready to recount the day. We ordered pizza, and headed out to our lanai, to play cards, and eat pizza.
My Mother greeted everyone, and said she was heading upstairs. My Father pulled me aside, gave me a hug and said “it is nice to see you with a smile on your face.”
It dawned on me, that I hadn’t smiled in months, the political climate in Caracas was impacting everyone around us, and was becoming the big elephant in the room. Something we never talked about, hoping our lives wouldn’t have to change. We all knew, it was a matter of time that the Caracas we knew and loved, was no longer to be. That day at the beach, we all got to forget, we all got to be teenagers.