When the universe forgets us, at least we are a family connected by tiny lights. For years, every single weekend of every summer, my family trekked 45 minutes to Orchard Beach in the Bronx. The choice was odd: We lived in Queens, and there was an arguably better beach in Far Rockaway. Still, my family always chose Orchard.
The kids slept later and got ready slowly. We packed into three cars with sleep still in our eyes. Puerto Rican families sitting nearby played Tito Puente, and the sound of Spanish overtook the distant waves. The adults typically stayed on the grass, while the kids — there were about a dozen of us — immediately stripped down to our bathing suits and ran to the never-warm-enough water. The boys would dunk the girls, and we swam for hours, returning only for lunch. By the time we got back, our skin had caramelized around our bathing suits.
As kids, all my cousins and I wanted was to be in the water, and sitting on the grass put a few extra yards between us and the ocean. Why, we wondered, do our parents make us sit so far away? Then, my first summer back from college, I started staying behind, too. I was on the brink of adulthood and suddenly did not feel compelled to rush to the beach. I drank Coronas out of Coke cans with my dad, aunts and uncles and learned the rhythm of their banter.
We danced bachata and merengue if someone had remembered a speaker , and my aunt and I made up dance moves. I listened to them tell stories of life back home in the Dominican countryside. After I graduated, I started taking trips to the Dominican Republic and experienced firsthand life in their small town nestled between mountains. My parents grew up within walking distance of a river hugged by trees.
Now my cousins and I do the same whenever I visit. I think I finally understand the reason the older generation took us to Orchard Beach all those summer weekends: They were trying to recreate their lives back home. My mother and father were from the mountains, more accustomed to dirt than sand, freshwater than salt.
They grew up far from the pristine blue waters of Punta Cana. My father did not see the ocean until he was Many in his town live and die without ever having seen it at all. It turns out I have always been tethered to his old life. He brought pieces of home with him and created a patchwork life in this strange new land. They seek out the shade, because now they can. We bring sandwiches, and we lie in the sun for hours to tan.
Once, when we were preteens at Orchard Beach, a cousin found a patch of grass and said she was tanning. My family still retells that story more than 15 years later. I still get in the water, eventually. In Miami, the sky is also a body of water. Lakes of rain fell on my best friends and me during the summer of That July and August we were always wet, pedaling through spectacular afternoon thundershowers along Biscayne Bay, the mile inlet of the Atlantic that indents the southeast coastline of Florida.
We rode our bicycles everywhere. For a trio of year-old girls, this was a wild and unusual autonomy.
The speed at which our promise became a lie: mere seconds, as we went bumping off the curb toward U. Nobody knew where we were for hours at a stretch — our location was a secret that traveled with us. In my memory, the thrill of disappearing in tandem is inseparable from the sudden flashes of saltwater behind the mangroves, the heat pulling at our spines.
What watched us, instead, was the ocean.
A great, lidless eye, inhumanly blue, following us along Main Highway through the Grove toward Miami Beach; waiting for us if we chose to pedal in the opposite direction, down Old Cutler Road to Matheson Hammock, a park with a man-made coral atoll pool bordering the real bay. In sunny weather, you could see the chrome stalagmites of downtown Miami; on a gray day, you could believe the land had been erased entirely.
The ocean haunted us even when we could not see it: infiltrating our senses as a warm tarry pungency at low tide, or a ticklish, ionic charge gathering under the banyan leaves before a 3 p. Private estates barricaded their waterfront views, yet we could turn down any cul-de-sac and find Biscayne Bay waiting for us. We hugged its rocky coastline, waiting for it to soften into sand.
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Pumping our legs, gasping for air, scaling bridges. We wore our bathing suits under our clothes so that we could strip and swim. One afternoon, we ate soggy KFC biscuits in the rain on a wealthy, empty private beach just off the Rickenbacker Causeway, skipping the tollbooths and pushing our bikes through the sea grapes, our leg muscles still spasming from climbing the steep bridge that connects mainland Miami to the island of Key Biscayne. This was our longest ride; we had traveled, at most, 11 miles from our homes. Manatees in Dinner Key Marina. The stink of low tide, the tiny crabs waving their pitchfork arms at us from the exposed rocks like a mob of irate villagers.
Slow down! We had the bodies of women, which meant that men had begun to holler at us from passing cars, words that drew butcher-shop lines around us and made us consider ourselves as an assemblage of parts: breasts, asses, thighs, faces. During rush-hour traffic, we had to pedal through this uglier sort of thundershower, our faces burning. At certain intersections we knew to sit and hunch over the handlebars, our eyes on the pavement.
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To get to the beach, we had to stand to pedal, and then the fire left our faces and came from inside us, from our lungs and calves — I discovered how strong my body was on those rides, pushing uphill. We went shrieking downhill toward the wavy tarpaulin of the bay. At last, we could relax into the sea, with its beautiful elasticity, its deep and generous amnesia. Like us, Biscayne Bay could forget a violent storm in an instant.
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We swam through smooth water, hidden up to our necks, buoyed inside the happy silence that follows great physical exertion. Under that moody, aqueous sky, my two best friends and I turned In my memory, that summer is a suspension bridge over the water, connecting the worlds of childhood and adulthood. Fall came, and we started high school, a violent eviction from the freedom of those afternoons. There are plenty of places that you can get to by bicycle, even in a city as vast as Miami. The gas-station convenience store that sells to minors. Tattoo parlors with a financial stake in believing that you are The houses of male strangers willing to extend to you this same line of credit.
The Planned Parenthood. When I think about the dark straits that young women have to travel, I remember racing the waves on either side of a winnowing road. We three were not amnesiacs, as it turns out, and neither is the ocean; the damage we sustain lives on inside us. So does this memory: the bridge to a blue expanse of dreaming time that girls deserve, and not only for a summer.
Before you and I get too far into this story about one summer day in a tiny coastal town called Tamariu, you should know that Tamariu is about a minute drive north of Barcelona in the northeast of Catalonia, which itself is in the northeast of Spain, and just south of the French border.
Before I ever step foot in Tamariu my wife, who was born and raised in Barcelona, spends a good chunk of every summer of her childhood there. Before we start to climb an improvised footpath worn into the rocky seaside embankment toward the isolated bays behind Tamariu with their vertiginous views of themselves, the sea, and little else.
Learning more about their abilities and how their brains are wired should lead to insights into the nature of human memory. Existing subscribers, please log in with your email address to link your account access. Inclusive of applicable taxes VAT. Video: Web chat with people who never forget.
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