We went to Ohope for the first time one summer on the outskirts of change.
It was 1991. The sea was settling. My soon-to-be stepdad took us to show the two-storey house ("flash!") and the corner store and the fishing spot and the waves where he grew up.
We drove past his old house at night on the way to get icecreams and fought in the backseat over who was the first to point out the right one.
Adults are born old in the eyes of the young. I would try to place him there, crossing the road barefeet on his way to the beach, feet stinging on hot tar. I couldn't.
His family were strangers to us. I knew his dad was a painter once, so I'd picture him on a ladder out front, hard at work, while my stepdad kicked a ball around on the grass below, long hair and bright coloured stubbies. I couldn't.
That holiday, his childhood place was overrun with our new family and by the end of the week it belonged to us all.
I remember the getting there. Stuck in the middle between two brothers because I was the smallest, though sometimes I'd play the car sick card and score a window seat. We were all geared up in a new outfit from Santa and our skin was sticky from summer fruit. I sang.
Wake up, my little Suzie, wake up!
My brothers pinged me with stretched out snake lollies and it was OWW! MUUM! DOOOON'T! And quick as that we were in Matata, fingers up against the icecream counter, ordering milkshakes and double cones and two minutes up the road it was "I'm gonna be sick!" and "Look out the window!" The only remedy was the promise of water and the debate over who'd seen it first.
We arrived and forgot troubles. We loved each other. We played on the rocks and swam till our fingers wrinkled and our eyes swelled and we'd swallowed one too many mouthfuls from the sea and we burped up salt.
We ran back to our towels with hot sand nipping our feet and at lunch we ate buns with pink icing before charging back to the waves to wrestle with boards.
At night we chased each other down the beach before bed, then my brothers told stories about strange bugs and tidal waves and I covered my ears and closed my mouth to stop spiders crawling in, and I kept one eye open in case of a natural disaster.
I remember my mum's hair that was only left curly on holiday. Her small white sneakers. Her lemon jumper that smelt better than beach. Her laugh that has always been just the right remedy. I remember her and my stepdad walking along the sand. We kids ran ahead and noticed them holding hands. The waves were the constant as things softly changed.
We went home to rave to my grandparents about the place we'd found and each year after that they would follow us there in convoy.
My nana, 87, still takes her boogie board down to the waves and my eyes take snap shots to try and capture the sight of it so I'll never forget.
One year a car pulled up with a young guy we'd never seen. I ditched my brothers and spent all summer chasing him. He sunbathed all day and I walked up and down the beach in the hope he would look up. He never did.
I made friends with the building manager's grandson and at night we would sit out front with the sound of waves filling in the gaps. I was desperate for him not to kiss me and as soon as we said goodbye I wished that he had. I told him I loved him. From out of nowhere. He said I had ruined his life then lifted my hand to his mouth and I remember the warmth of his breath and the cool tip of his nose that brushed against my skin. When I left we started to write letters saying things far more intimate than we would dare say in person, and every summer we would meet back at that spot and make promises to each other that never got kept. Most of the time it's people that change you, but sometimes it's places too. We arrived to our spot and for 10 days it set to and soothed us. We changed and hurried back to find the water stayed the same. My friend the building manager's grandson stopped coming and that year I spent the whole holiday out front, waiting for him. The water stayed. I decided to spend time imprinting the view from that spot in my mind, so I had an exact image to refer to when I needed it back home. Starting at the horizon line, I worked my way over it then back again, obsessed.
Now I close my eyes and the water stays.
- © Fairfax NZ News