We were the last condo on the corner. An ugly brown box with a tiny porch and a square of grass littered with boogie boards, bubble machines, and an over sized inflatable swan. There were plastic chairs out front where we sat after dusk, watching the moonlight glinting on the bay and listening to the Sea World fireworks booming in the distance. The condo was by no means glamorous, especially compared to the neighboring quaint cottages and towering summer homes. But for one week of the summer, every summer that I can remember, it was ours.
As I stepped out of the minivan, the familiar aura of Mission Bay washed over me. The slight breeze in my hair, the subtle sunlight warming my back, the jingle of bike bells and steady chatter of passersby and squawking seagulls. I looked toward the condo, where my six-year-old cousin stood. Stringy blonde hair fell to just below her shoulders. She had Auntie Tiff’s hair and Guma’s hair, too. She had round hazel eyes that would widen at every comment and little pink lips that were always forming questions (or complaints) or laughing at Uncle Teddy’s jokes. The adults were constantly calling after her, “Brittany!” (Auntie Tiff) or “Brit-ta-ny” as Guma would croon.
She was wearing her little pink flip-flops and Elsa pajama dress when we paraded over, her hand on her hip and head cocked to the side at the sight of our odd ensemble - PD (my younger brother), my mom, and I were using a shopping cart we’d found in the parking lot to tote our suitcases and boogie boards. As I set my things down on the porch, Brittany scampered over and I swooped her up in a hug. I could see Brandon farther down the bike path, swerving and skidding on his red child’s bike. Inside, Uncle Ted was peeling off his wetsuit, already back from his morning surfing, and Guma was just rolling over in bed. Auntie Tiff turned and waved from the kitchen as we called “Hello” and lugged our suitcases to the back bedroom. At last, after a 4am departure and drowsy car ride, we had arrived.
From there the day unfolded as every vacation day did every year. Running down to the bay, feeling the algae squishing between our toes. Gliding across the water on the monstrous inflatable swan with Brittany and Brandon in tow on the boogie boards. Little waves rippled behind us as we paddled. Sometimes, the swan tipped and we had to kick and grapple to climb back on top. At last, with aching limbs, PD and I managed to reach the dock across the bay. After slipping into the water, we scratched and clawed to hoist ourselves up onto the splintering wood. Then, we lay on our stomachs and stretched our arms out to the water to pull a shivering Brittany and Brandon up and over the side of the dock. Holding their small hands tightly in ours, we tugged and they shrieked and we all launched off of the dock and hit the water with a splash.
Later, we suited up to skip across the street to the beach, where we hunted for sand crabs and flew kites and skimmed across the water on our boogie boards for hours. Guma observed from her perch in the lawn chair, laughing so hard at Brittany’s latest fit that tears streamed from her eyes. I waited eagerly until Brittany’s pouting sufficed and then Auntie Tiff and I charged into the water. We splashed over sea foam like we were hurdlers at a track meet and paddled, hungrily, out to where the larger waves were breaking. Once we swam far enough, we floated contentedly, letting ourselves be swept up and over the crests of the waves, until we spotted the one we knew we had to ride. Then we kicked and paddled furiously until it came, rushing over us and propelling us all the way to shore. Exhilarated, we popped up, spit the salt out of our mouths, yanked our swimsuits back into place, and raced out again to meet the ocean. Again and again and again. Sometimes, we rode the waves forever. Other times, we were dumped by a deceptive swell or thrashed by the relentless whitewash.
And other times, we just floated. Past the surfers, past the waves, past where our toes could touch the sand. We flipped over on our backs like sea otters and hugged the boards for buoyancy. We loved the thrill of the water rinsing through our hair and the lull of it rolling into waves beneath us. All that lay before us was the glossy ocean and streaky orange sky. The expansiveness was liberating. As we bobbed there, listening to the water gently lapping against our boards and the breaking waves crash behind us, we talked and laughed with one another about anything - high school, friends, future decisions. Those were the most precious moments - the ones when I had my aunt and the whole ocean, it seemed, all to myself.
Eventually, we sensed that it was time to leave, either by the long shadows on the beach or our purplish lips and the prickly goosebumps on our skin. With bright eyes, full hearts, and weary bodies, we rode in, packed up, and trekked back to the condo (usually forgetting a flip-flop or two in the sand). We knew crispy tacos and dry pajamas awaited us inside.
That was what summer was to me - those long days, hot nights, swatting flies in the condo kitchen, and spraying passing roller skaters with the bubble gun. It was the joy of reconnecting with the friend within each of my family members and the freedom of disconnecting from the world beyond. It was one week, one blissful week, when my family and I celebrated all things silly and spontaneous because all we needed was each other. We lived each day splash by splash. Wave by wave. Moment by moment. And it was glorious.