The bliss of an empty beach cannot be underestimated.
I should be writing. I brought all my book notes. The reams of printed paper covered in a multitude of black pen edits. Added words. Heavily crossed out words. The "what were you thinking, Michelle?" edits. Instead I am simply sitting at a rusty, glass topped table on the back porch of a cream weatherboard. I trace the rough edges of the metal work with my fingers and listen to the waves crash on the shore 100 metres to my right.
I can hear birds everywhere. In the scrubby beach dunes, darting in and out to the overgrown pig face and the gnarled banksias. Each day a little group of blue-helmeted finches dart around the brush outside the kitchen window. Little fluffy brown babies, just getting their wings, follow springing from twig to twig. Gulls floating effortlessly on the sea breeze, turns and a myriad other sea birds casually flying over the odd fisherman or float in small groups on the gentle waves near the foreshore.
I'm burnt. On my legs. An odd pattern marked out by dog slobber and the sticky sand that gathered in haphazard patches on my legs. It hurts. A lot. The breeze is kind but still tingles as it passes. Sheets and hands make me yell. It goes against all the Slip Slop Slap messages of my youth and manifests in the odd twinge of guilt. But it is a good feeling. My legs haven't seen the sun in years. They are always covered in compression stockings when I head out. Never to see the light of day. Or they are hidden away in the house with me. Too ill to head outside. But I forgot. I forgot all of that. I sat on the beach and whipped off my violet Size I 20-30mmHgs and stood in the waves propped expertly by Mr Grumpy. I stood there and felt the cool waves hit. One after the other higher and higher. I felt the sand slip from under my feet and rejoiced in the feeling of moving lower and lower, consumed by the fluid grains. When I reached my limit I lay on my beach mat and examined the infinite blue of the Summer sky. I felt the warmth of Freyja's body as she cuddled up close. And the feel of her paw on my leg and her tongue licking the salt off my leg. I breathed it all in. And it was good.
I've walked on the beach. Not far and not for long. But I walked. Slowly. Gingerly. Slipping and sliding. My walking stick disappearing into the loose sand. My youngest a few steps ahead resolutely pushing my wheelchair just in case. I follow the deep ruts left in the sand like breadcrumbs to the biscuit coloured sands we make our own. The soft deep sand up near the dunes and the stable darker form down closer to the waves. I have walked the midline between surf and dune, where the shells and detritus from the sea gather. I stopped and collected. A haul of sea shells whole and broken now lay on the table next to me. Pippies and oyster shells, clams of various sizes and the odd conch. Most I have no name for, but their size, the curve of the edge, breaks smoothed by the endless churning of sea and sand, catch my eye and draw my hand. My legs ache and I've tumbled but it has been blissful.
I have eaten foods I should not. I have downed expensive Ondan to stop being ill and put up with pain. I have eaten ham and turkey and a little spread of mustard pickles. I luxuriated in spinach and pepitas. Walnuts and raspberries. I sat with my family and ate Christmas dinner. And fish and chips and drank wine. I felt sick to my stomach and deliriously happy.
I have laughed with my family. Told bad jokes and endured way too many puns. We have hugged and we have sat. We played board games and paddled in the sea, and walked arm in arm up the dunes. We played cricket on the beach Christmas day. An Australian tradition that I have been unable to participate in for years. I batted. I bowled. I fell over and I laughed. We are staying in a house lent to us by a friend. And Mr Grumpy has gone above and beyond to make it restful and fun. I have been spoiled and I am truly content.
I've stayed up late and not rested. Walked on the beach without compression stockings and failed to hydrate properly. My knees and ankles are swollen from my efforts but I walk up the path from the beach again and again. My family simply smiling and shaking their heads, knowing it's pointless to insist that I pace myself. I have done everything I am not supposed to do and it's been magical. My hair is at angles from sea wind and salt. There is sand crusted in my stockings and on the rims of my wheelchair. I can taste the sea salt on my lips and I've lost hours simply gazing at pristine blue Summer skies. I have lived. I am exhausted and I will pay. But every drop of pain and illness. Weakness and vomit is worth it.
I sit on the cool concrete step out front now. The sun is going down and Angus and Julia Stone sing from my laptop. I can hear waves and laughter. Birds and the gentle sound of the wind through the yukkas in the yard. I can smell salt in the air and see it's mark on the house we have been inhabiting. I feel healed and cleansed. Renewed and reborn. For the first time in a long time I am breathing.