|Publisher:||Regal House Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)|
|Age Range:||12 - 18 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Shyness is a disease. It's not contagious, and it's not life-threatening — though sometimes it feels that way. Those of us who suffer from this disease are born shy; we're genetically predisposed to freeze, crumble, or act like panic-stricken rodents in most social situations.
The worst form of the disease is what I call "All-Star Shy Person Syndrome," which means that contact with anyone who has a pulse can make you quake in your flip-flops. It doesn't matter whether you've known them your whole life, or just met them that day. All you want to do is go hide under the nearest rock.
There are some lucky shy folks, I call them "Type A's," who, in spite of their inherent social phobia, can transform themselves into confident alter-egos when on stage or competing in sports. But when they're not scoring goals or hitting pitch-perfect high C's, they're stumbling through life with eyes averted, avoiding as much direct human interaction as possible.
Then there are the less lucky Type B's who, while moderately shy, turn to mush or stone at the mere thought of performing. Type B's aren't always so inept — they can manage a polite conversation with strangers if the situation demands it; plus, they're cool with friends and family, who Type B's think of as gems kept in special pockets, stored and safe. But ask Type B's to perform? To go: "Tada! Look at me! Aren't I great?" Forget about it. There are no comfort pockets for that kind of experience.
If we're lucky or persistent enough, an All-Star or Type B can become a Type A. But no matter what kind of shyness we each have locked in our genetic codes, we all know: once a shy person, always a shy person. We can't will it away, no matter how hard we want to, no matter how hard we try.
When I was ten years old, I still wanted to please my mother. I thought Sara — as she liked me to call her — was God's gift to womanhood. I aspired to be just like her, even though I knew I was completely different. So when she signed me up for the Montauk Junior Surf Tournament, I didn't consider saying no, even though my shyness antenna was bleeping at full frequency. I tried to convince myself that if Sara liked surfing in front of other people, then gosh, gee, maybe I would, too. Maybe the waves would win me over. Because even when they challenged me, even when they sent me tumbling into places blue, dark, and cold, waves were my best friends. Waves were my watery companions occupying the deepest and most special pockets.
Surfing wasn't a choice for me; it was a calling. Sometimes it felt more natural than breathing. Sara claimed I started surfing when I was two years old. I still have fuzzy memories of lying on the nose of her surfboard, water surrounding us like a cave, with a clear view of sun and sky. When I looked up, I saw Sara standing with her strong calves squeezed around my little kid waist like a vise. No way would she ever let me fall.
If only my wiser self could go back in time and warn that young dummy. At ten, I was deep in an All-Star-Shy-Girl cocoon, avoiding other kids whenever I could, barely lifting my chin to say a polite "hello" to their parents.
I knew something was wrong as soon as we left our home in Kendall's Watch and cruised westward along the one-lane highway connecting Kendall's with the world-famous — maybe even infamous — surf town of Montauk. Staring out the window at the familiar mile markers, dunes, brushy beach plums, and scrubby pines whizzing by, I felt sick to my stomach. We'd driven this route a gazillion times before and I'd never gotten carsick. This was clearly All-Star-Shyness induced nausea. Soon enough, I was all sweaty palms, shaking knees, and blurry vision.
Sara was oblivious. "This is gonna be fun," she said as she chewed her gum and tapped her hand on the steering wheel. "The waves are gonna be perfect for you, Anna. Trust me. You're gonna have the time of your life."
I did trust my mother — most of the time, anyhow. But not then. Deep in my shy core, I started to understand; there would be no fun at this tournament. There would be no perfection. Instead, I imagined, there would be disaster with a capital D. But I kept my mouth shut. Maybe, just maybe, I told myself, you'll get out of the car and this terrible feeling will disappear.
No such luck. As soon as we arrived at the Ditch Plains surf break in Montauk, I knew I was a goner. Crowds milled about the parking lot; parents unloaded beach umbrellas, surfboards, chairs, coolers, and kids. As Sara started pulling gear out of the back of our Jeep, I stayed glued to my seat and stared out at the beach. From the safe distance of the car, I could smell the sunscreen, sea salt, hot dogs, and beer. Even though it was still only early morning, people were ready to party. And when I say people, I mean lots of people. Surfers from all over the East Coast had shown up. And not just surfers, but friends of surfers, parents of surfers, grandparents of surfers, and photographers of surfers. Colorful umbrellas were staked out in prime spectator spots. Little kids screamed with glee at the water's edge as frothy foam covered their feet; their moms stood watch, wearing modest sundresses and drinking pink drinks out of giant plastic tumblers. Teenage girls paraded in tiny bikinis, holding dripping ice cream cones, and a gaggle of old-timers sat in lawn chairs, gabbing away while battery-operated fans blew in their faces.
I hugged my sketchbook to my queasy tummy. Other kids carried ratty baby blankets or stuffed animals around for security. Me? I hauled drawing supplies around wherever I went. Nearby, two girls my age laughed while their mothers
gathered beach chairs and umbrellas. One of the girls, a blonde, glanced in my direction, then turned to her dark-haired friend and whispered. They both turned to gawk at me, like two hawks eyeing a defenseless chipmunk.
"I changed my mind," I gasped. "I don't want to do this anymore. Let's go home."
"Don't be silly," Sara said impatiently.
"Please?" I pleaded. "I feel sick. I have a stomachache."
Sara tried the sweet approach. "You're gonna rock this contest, Anna. I just know it. Now put the sketchbook down and get out of the car."
Sara leaned over me, her shell necklace dangling in my face. "Listen, Anna," her voice was low and steady, but oozed irritation, "We've paid the tournament fee already. Plus, we Dugans are not quitters. I'm not going to have my daughter, who is the best surfer under the age of eighteen, bag out of this contest." Sara swung my car door open. "Get out. Pronto."
Hot tears formed in my eyes. The two hawky girls were still staring at me. They could see what a cowardly baby I was.
"Can I ... at least bring my sketchbook with me?" I stammered.
Sara stared at the precious sketchbook that I clutched to my chest. I was strong, but about as wide as a blade of grass; it would be hard to pry the book from my clutches. A vein pulsed in the side of Sara's long, tan neck. Her jaw moved as if she had a bunch of marbles in her mouth. Finally she spoke, "Okay, you can bring it, if it makes you happy. But don't get all whiny if it gets sandy. And if other kids want to talk to you, stop drawing and have an actual conversation with them. Deal?"
"Deal," I replied happily. I put my sketchbook back in my canvas tote where my pens and pencils, stashed in a side pocket, were neatly rubber-banded in groups according to color. Scooting out of the car, I forced myself to follow Sara to the sign-up table. A super-stoked boy about my age finished his registration and whooped a big "Oh yeah!" while high fiving his equally enthusiastic father. Sara and I were fortunately
— or unfortunately — next in line.
Panic bubbled up from the pit of my stomach when a freckly woman, with a name tag that read "Alison," handed
me a green jersey. She proceeded to explain the rules of the event: "You'll be competing against fourteen other girls, sweetheart. Only five of you will go out at a time. The goal is to catch as many waves as you can in a thirty-minute heat, and surf those waves as well as you can. So it's a combination of quality and quantity. After all the girls have gone, the judges will narrow you down to a group of four. Tomorrow we'll do a second heat and decide on first through fourth place winners in your division. At the end of the tournament, the judges vote on the best overall surfer from among the top contestants. Do you understand all that, hon?"
"How much does she get when she wins first prize?" asked Sara.
Alison looked confused. "How much what?"
"Money, of course," answered Sara.
"There's no cash award in this contest. All proceeds benefit the East End Women and Children's Shelter down in Hampton Bays."
"You're kidding," Sara replied testily. "You mean these kids don't get any payback for their hard work?"
"Sorry, but we're not running this competition as that kind of event. Competing to benefit the children's shelter is payback enough for our kids."
Alison, glancing down at her clipboard, called the next contestant. A whole pack of people now lined up behind us, and some of the grownups had clearly heard our exchange. They looked at Sara as if she had some kind of illness — Greedy Mommy Disease — though I was relieved to see that the kids were oblivious, too jazzed up to pay attention, happily jabbing each other, telling jokes, having the kind of kid-surfer fun that was out of my reach.
As we walked away, Sara grumbled, "La-de-dah. Isn't she the noble one?"
"If you're angry at her, we can just leave," I tried.
"Fat chance. Even more reason for you to win," Sara muttered, yanking me toward the beach. At ten, I was too puny to carry my own surfboard, so Sara carried it for me under one muscular arm. Over her opposite shoulder, she had a giant beach bag filled with the day's supplies: two beach towels, an old Mexican blanket, bottled water, granola bars, gorp, easy-to-peel clementines, zinc oxide for lips and 50 SPF sunscreen for the rest of the body, a floppy sunhat for me, a sexy trucker hat for her. I had a modest tank suit on under my oversized tee shirt, while Sara was in full display in a teeny, tiny bikini barely concealed under microscopic board shorts.
We found a spot on the crowded sand. Kids ran everywhere — the youngest, goofy and unselfconscious, played games of tag and wrestled like puppies in the sand; those my age and older pretended to be chill, but I could tell that some of them were nervous — maybe not quite at my high-alert level, but definitely not as cool-cucumbered as they'd like people to think. One girl chewed her cuticles as if she'd been starved of real food for days; a boy twisted the hem of his rash guard so tight that it looked like he might rip it to shreds. Most of the competitors seemed to know each other, and I imagined that gave them comfort. They looked like they felt right at home while I felt like I'd landed on Mars without a spacesuit.
A stage was set up on the beach, blasting reggae music from giant loudspeakers. A few older couples danced with beer cozies in their hands — clearly soused even though it wasn't even 10 a.m. yet. The whole scene was a giant, chaotic beach party, and shy kids like me hated parties. This would be worse than apple bobbing or Pin the Tail on the Donkey. This was a party where kids were competing and showing off. I had no idea how to do either of those things.
"I'm hungry," Sara said. "You want something? I'm gonna
hit that food stand over there."
I followed the trajectory of her long arm and manicured finger to a table manned by a couple of hunky surfers. Shaggy blonde-brown hair and biceps; broad shoulders and board shorts. My single mother's favorite kind of food.
"Nah, I'm okay," I mumbled.
Rummaging through her beach bag, Sara brought out a granola bar and a bottle of water. "Well, do me a favor and have these. I don't want you paddling out there without some fuel and hydration in your system."
Sara brushed the sand off the back of her short-shorts and sashayed over toward "the food," leaving me to wait and worry.
I stared out at the ocean. The waves were decent, four to six feet, steep, curling and nicely formed. Normally, I loved those kinds of waves, but on that day I wasn't so sure. My All-Star-Shy-Girl perspective distorted everything, including the surf. Those perfect waves looked as unpredictable as killer sharks who, if hungry enough, might want to eat me in a few swift bites.
The first heat was for boys under seven. They strutted about flexing acorn-sized biceps, jerseys hanging below their knees. One little fellow clung to his father's leg like a barnacle to a rock. Aha, I thought, there's the shy one. A horn bleated like a hysterical goat, and they all dashed in and began to paddle — even barnacle boy.
My stomach seized and spasmed. Even watching other kids compete seemed to make me queasy. Sketching, I knew, would calm my nerves; I opened my sketchbook and looked through the quirky drawings — Wavehouses from my dreams.
The Wavehouse visions had started when I was six. First, I dreamed only of waves, but in later dreams, the waves
became houses. I would wake up, immediately reaching for any scrap of paper I could find, desperate to scribble the Wavehouse before it was forgotten. Life with Sara was particularly unpredictable back in those days, so I suppose Wavehouses were, somehow, my way to control, to imagine, to feel empowered. They fueled me almost as much as surfing did.
Sara became annoyed when every unopened envelope or sales receipt was covered with my drawings, so she went out and bought me a sketchbook. I'd draw Wavehouses that formed on the crests of rolling waves or under green swells, hovering like bubbles beneath the surface of the sea; some were simple cottages tucked behind underwater rock formations and landscaped with eel grass and coral; others were massive mansions with plumes of water spewing from their roofs kept afloat by waves. My Wavehouses were inhabited by mermaids and flocks of seagulls. Fish gathered to form shimmering-scale pathways to underwater doors, or swam in and out of open water windows. Pelicans rested on floating roofs, sunning themselves as Wavehouses bobbed with the tides.
Usually, I never took my sketchbook out in public — no one besides Sara had ever seen my Wavehouses; but this felt like an emergency. My vision was starting to blur with nervous tears. With so much surf-centric activity around me, no one would notice the odd little girl scribbling in a book.
Sara lingered at the food table, laughing and tossing her long mane of jet-black hair while the surf dudes flipped burgers and chugged beers, which meant she wouldn't bug me to hide my book or force me to talk to people. To echo my dark mood, I drew a spooky Wavehouse with a curling mass of foamy white water for a roof and spiky mussel shells for its walls. The windows were jagged and irregular, and the door was lined with shark teeth. I was putting the finishing touches on a slippery stone walkway when a squeaky voice over my shoulder said, "That's really good."
Shocked, I swung my head around, almost giving myself whiplash. The squeaky voice belonged to a chubby girl with curly red hair that surrounded her pale face like a bunch of loose and rusty springs. She wore a puff-sleeved dress, ankle socks, and party shoes. No bathing suit, no board shorts, no towel — definitely not a surfer.
Slamming my book shut, I stared out at the ocean.
"Seriously," she continued, talking to the back of my head, "you're even better than Michael Rindlesmith, and he's our class artist. I go to PS 6, by the way. In the city."
I said nothing.
"I'm in the Gifted and Talented Program," she said matter of factly. "Where do you go to school?"
"Kendall's Watch Elementary," I whispered.
"Huh? I can't hear you." Before I could stop her, she plopped down next to me. "Where do you go?" I'd never seen another person, kid or grown-up, with eyes as blue and as bright as hers.
"Kendall's Watch Elementary," I repeated.
"Oh wow! What a coincidence! I think we're going to Kendall's Watch this afternoon. My parents are looking at houses all over the place. They suddenly want to leave the Upper West Side and live at the beach." she sighed. "I don't want to move, but then again, I sort of do. I'm very indecisive. My name is Myra Berkowitz by the way. What's yours?"
"Anna Dugan," I squeaked.
"Pleased to meet you, Anna." Myra held her hand out to me, like a little executive. She was the least kid-like kid I had ever met. Were all kids from New York City like Myra? I wondered. I took her hand. It was cool and soft.
"Anna, the artist," Myra smiled. "Do you have any other cool drawings in that book?"
I kinda wanted to show her my drawings, but I also kinda wanted her to go away. I hesitated, and, in that pause, my chance to share disappeared.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Wavehouse"
Copyright © 2018 Alice Kaltman.
Excerpted by permission of Regal House Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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