by Heather Martin
At four years old, the island is your blooming tulip. You take it all in with wide eyes and wonder. It gives you more than enough to explore. You’re happy there. The concept of outside, beyond the island periphery, doesn’t cross your mind.
At four times four years old, a chip on your shoulder has grown. You become increasingly jaded while the days pass by slowly. You feel contained, trapped within a small-town microcosm. You long for the mainland, curious and eager and ready to ditch the constancy of island life. But you still have to wait.
How quickly we change.
At 16 you had no faint clue about yourself. You had an idea once, but you lost it amongst the structure and order of regulated, middle class adolescence, while you were busy getting As and going to choir practice. You craved chaos, while on the outside you were the youth of the year. The community’s poster teen, longing to scream.
So you were sneaky and snatched up moments of insanity wherever and whenever possible. Thunder Cove was the answer for boys and girls like you, needing an escape, wanting slight diversions off-course for a night, temporarily veering off the pathways of your pre-law futures.
The nights you spent there depended on the weather and the wind. A chance of showers could ruin it. You spread the word through the chain of landline calls to everyone sitting at home with baited breath, picking up after the first or second ring to avoid the parents’ looming interceptions. These were the days when Marie the Only Child was your sole friend with a cell phone, her chunky clunky novelty without a network. You told the folks you were all going camping for the night, you’d be back in the morning, you promised.
Sometimes, in May and June when you were still stuck indoors all day being introduced to thermodynamics or the Krebs cycle or something else you’ve since forgotten, you’d have the plans developing by second period. Mr. Crawley would notice the ebb and flow of notes going in and out among the desks but he had a good sense of humour. C’maaan guys, just give me some attention, he’d say, then ya can hit the bottle or do whatever it is ya want ta do.
It wasn’t about rebellion. It was too quiet, too hidden, for that kind of title. It was about seeking satisfaction while playing it safe.
You’d get there and the boys would have the fire going, not an oh-Lord-Kumbaya scene, but a massive 6-foot blaze that you couldn’t even stand near. It kept the shoreline warm and lit up the night so you wouldn’t have to thrash around in the dark a whole lot. The boys would always go as big as possible without it getting too out of hand and attracting police attention. One time they ignited Mark’s old desk and it burned from long before dusk til the early hours of the morning, only stopping once they’d doused it with buckets of salt water as the sun came up.
Once it took a while to get out to Thunder Cove and when you arrived people teased, ya know yer late, roight? You all wanted to catch up on the drinking so you didn’t bother with the tent and said, yeah, we’ll just set it up before we sleep. Hours later, you stumbled up through the dunes to the grassy makeshift parking spot and collectively agreed, fuck it. The four of you passed out in the back of Emma’s dad’s drywall truck that got you there. You woke up covered in white dust and washed it off in the sea.
You’d take shots with the boys of whatever nasty stuff anyone could swipe from their parents’ liquor cabinets, and winced over the rum-whiskey-shine-sourpuss concoctions that you’d mixed. You’d chug a beer through a homemade funnel while they chanted ooga-chucka-ooga-chucka-oog-oog-oog!, feeling tremendously drunk and invincible when you finished. The empties marked successful subversion taking place, many accumulated by your group those nights, trophies for the bottle posse.
You’d take shots on disposable cameras, get them developed at the photo shop during lunch hour on the days you didn’t have student council, and cackle over the images of the night’s events, the glazed eyes and windswept hair. You’d tear the pictures later into tiny pieces and throw them with the twigs and dead leaves in the woods by your house. Your little cousin would find them there, piece them back together like a puzzle in his scribbler with a glue stick, and never say a word. He’d follow your suit one day.
The morning’s aching pain was worth the night’s madness. You believed in this from the start. Even if you had to volunteer or go to big family dinners the next day, you were always up for it. You loved the nighttime minutes that stretched into the hours of each evening adventure. Even if you went overboard and ended up spewing chunks at the water’s edge, you still took a moment to look up at the moon while she was keeping tabs on you. This reminded you that, as anxious as you were to leave, you still found it intensely beautiful in a striking way.
The mornings after, if you had the time, you’d spend lying in clusters on the beach, warmth radiating up from the red sand that you couldn’t find anywhere else, except maybe Georgia or Kenya or Mars. You’d all get up together and meander along the shore. You loved the big ruddy rock that dipped into the ocean, a huge towering formation where’d you climb and hang and lounge for hours. You couldn’t find the right words so it remained unnamed.
The island was your incubator. The North Shore was your ever-growing heartbeat.
One night, when you felt like doing something rash, making a scene, showing off your intensity, you and Tessa decided to smash the quart bottle you’d just finished, dinging it off the jagged side of a rocky cliff. It shattered into shards, scattering in the dark. Who knows if, days later, beachgoers were cut or nicked by the sand’s new fragments? Who knows what scars were inadvertently made on bodies unknown by the smashing, connecting you to strangers through the physical marks they bear from your impulsive instance? Who knows what shape of sea glass the pieces formed as the tide came and went over the years, or whose future grandchildren discovered the dulled remains and added it to their colourful collections in old mason jars? Oh, who knows?
You came back to Thunder Cove years later at the end of another long hard winter. From the top of the dunes you could see that the big ruddy rock had dwindled down to a little slab in the sea. The waves were rhythmic that day.
You didn’t cry but you drove back to the mainland and tried not to think about it.
Heather Martin hails from Prince Edward Island and has a Master’s degree in English Language and Literature from Memorial University of Newfoundland. A wanderer by nature, she is currently enjoying the mountains and simultaneously missing the ocean in Banff, Alberta.