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Beth Bornstein Dunnington

Staying on the Wave

When you meet me I wonder if you notice that I am new. I am something other than I was, someone other than I was even in this room before. The last time it was leaving. I was leaving this room and starting again – in a new place. With different colors and smells and ocean. Even a different ocean.

As a girl I sat on the beach wall above the gray/slate blue Atlantic. Cold. Enormous expanse of that color. And the jetties… unforgiving.

“Don’t go out on the jetties, Bethy!” my father warned me. “That’s where so and so drowned. You can never anticipate the undertow. Not in Boston. Not from the jetties…”

So I sat on that wall: neutral-colored, crumbling, graffiti-covered “Dana & Dominick 4 eva,” and I watched the jetties, imagining a young person, a kid, like me, going out on a dare and getting sucked under. Instantly. Without a chance to remember or regret what they might have become had they not made that choice. Walking barefoot over sharp shells and disintegrated sea urchins, before the wave swept them away.

I knew, sitting on that wall, that I had drowned in a past life… images of a boat with sails traveling from somewhere, Eastern Europe maybe – or Africa? I experienced that sensation of drowning, being engulfed by that gray/slate blue cold Atlantic. Quietly, with no one looking or sometimes not quietly, holding on to a piece of driftwood or the remnant of a sail, torn in the going down.

The act of going down.

Not as quick as the undertow of the jetty but quick enough. Being engulfed, lungs filling with salt and cold and of course, water.

That’s what I imagined at eleven or twelve, sitting on my private wall in Winthrop, wondering how long the Atlantic would let me live, would spare me that.

And then I left. To the Pacific. Turquoise, aqua, black and green sand beaches, or white – not gray. Rich, vibrant and even stronger, louder than the Atlantic. No Jetties but waves, big waves that can wash me onto the shore, on a boogie board probably meant for someone younger. But I need that ride, that thrill, for ten seconds, or thirty. Especially now. Holding my son’s hand as he instructs me on the art of staying on the wave.

“Mom! Turn around…here it comes, go! Go now mom! Don’t miss it!”

I ride in on that wave with my son and his friend Brian or Casey or Andrew. I am the mom on the boogie board, trying to eek out more time. Trying to ride over what happened. Trying to stay with my boy before the Hapuna Beach waves – angry in winter, unpredictable – before they pull us apart and I am pushing against the current to get back to my son.

“Sean! You’re too close to the rock!” I call out.
But he doesn’t hear me and I am there again.
A girl on a wall.
Imagining going under.
Salt in the lungs, water, disappearing – although this time it’s my son, not me, whom I can’t save.

But this is my fantasy, my illusion. And there he is, of course, throwing himself on the board as he and his friend Brian or Casey or Andrew try to outdo each other, to get on the wave first, to make it all the way to the sand.

This is where I was going when I was last in this room.
To those waters.
And I am here now…no ocean today, but again gray/slate/cold.
And I am new. Different. Changed.
Can you see that when you meet me?
Do you know who I was before?

With that journey came new dangers, new falls, a new kind of drowning, but not one that I imagined, not even a little. Not one that my dad could have warned me about as I sat on that wall back then, contemplating my demise.

“Don’t go out on the jetty, Bethy! You’ll get sucked under…”

Not anything I could have imagined.

But here I am. Returned. New wings. My elbows are wings, you said. Yes. I can imagine that. I wear wings on my neck. A phoenix, given to me by Silvia, a survivor, a new Silvia from this ocean.

“The phoenix rose again,” she said, when she put it in my hand. “I never take mine off,” she said.

Do you see that about me when you meet me? Maybe not. But it is there. Under my scarf, against my neck. Ready for flight. To rise above the slate blue gray the turquoise black and green. To start again.

To be new.

Beth Bornstein Dunnington is an east coast performer/director, writer/editor and mom who finds herself living on the Big Island of Hawaii. Since moving to this wildly alive yet very remote place, Beth has been most interested in what wakes us up creatively, and the delicate balance between parenting and living as an artist. For six years, Beth was the co-artistic director/co-founder of Two Island Productions, a theater company dually based in Manhattan and Bermuda, dedicated to creating, developing and performing original plays. She also wrote scripts for many years for animated TV series including “Doug,” “Batman,” “Jem and The Holograms,” “Transformers,” “GI Joe,” “My Little Pony,” “He Man,” “Thundercats,” “Scooby Doo,” and she was part of the Emmy Award winning team of writers on Steven Spielberg’s “Tiny Tunes.” Her most recent projects are co-writer for the Independent film “The Road To Q’ero, a Journey Home” and the writer/actor in a collaborative theater/dance multi-media performance piece, “Que Suenes Con Las Angelitas,” which was performed in Hawaii and will be touring in Buenos Aires in 2013. She blogs on She Writes.

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  • monica devine

    I trust Hawaii is pleasing to your aesthetics; to rise from the ashes and land on the islands is apropos, considering Pele is the goddess of fire and volcanoes. new beginnings…

  • amy ferris

    well, i was crazy nuts in love with you before i read this, and now it seems i’m crazy nuts in love AND HOLY SHIT YES, YES, YES IN AWE OF YOU.
    wow, so very brilliant & beautiful.

  • Steven Inza

    As I walk along the wall I hear the jetties calling out your name. Oh how the jetties miss you Beth.

    Refreshing to read, as your writings always are.

  • Barbara Radecki

    This is stunning, Beth! Painfully evocative. Beautiful.

  • Lori Landau

    Water is at the essence of our beings. It is part of every cell , the common thread that weaves us all together as one? we are gestated in water. it is awesome in it’s opposing factors: it can either save us or drown us. your piece is a metaphor for the duality of water, the duality of being human. you are a beautiful storyteller–the kind whose tales swim into the heart and stir the mind and soul. bravo!

  •,WAMTheatre,com Leigh Strimbeck

    A beautiful piece of writing. I grew up by the wild waves north of Boston, and identified with it so many ways. Thank you.

  • Emily Grieves

    I can almost hear your father’s voice echoing in my mind “Don’t go out on the jetties, Bethy” – you evoke such viseral sensation with your way of writing about the water and its own aliveness, the Atlantic, the Pacific, the past lives, the past lives within this lifetime, and your presence now with the vibrant Pacific waves … beautiful and haunting, Beth. Thank you for sharing. xoxo

  • Donna Burke

    Beth , Captivating ..

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  • Miranda

    Beautiful–the contrasts between wanting to be new, to be one’s own–and wanting that for our children while at the same time wanting them to be safe–just as you and your father both expressed. Memorable prose. Thank you!

  • Hugh Green

    Beautiful, evocative writing. I would love to read more of your work. Thank you for this very unique and powerful piece!

  • Beth Bornstein Dunnington

    Thank you thank you for these oh-so-sweet comments!!! Always wonderful when you put your words out there to have people say words back. Especially these meaningful words, mostly from other writers. Suzi Banks Baum – your Laundry Line IS Divine. Thrilled to be a guest writer here. Love from Hawaii. xxx

  • jenn

    very cool to read from the tribe of mothers who write their hearts on their sleeves, the fears of drowning, the waves, the thrill, the memories of father’s words – mine said the same, don’t go too far, don’t go camping in Algonquin park, the bears….don’t hitchhike downtown, and I echo his words to my young adults, don’t go to Greece this year, it’s dangerous (but they’re headed off anyway)…

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