Fishing For Crabs

Fishing For Crabs

I squeeze my dad’s hand in excitement.

“Look!” I exclaim.

There’s a splash in the water where the ocean meets the sand. A crab scurries along.

There are little crab holes all along this Fijian beach, where crustaceans hide from the eager three-year-olds trying to imprison them. With pail and spade in hand, we bundle towards the resort’s pier. I’m certain this is where the crab went. I had been searching for far too long to give up and go home empty handed. I simply had to catch a crab – I’d promised Mum I’d bring her one back.

Dad taps me on the shoulder and points.

“Over there,” he whispers.

Trying to be as stealthy as I can, I sneak up on the crab. It’s no bigger than a 50-cent piece. I go in with one big swoop. I peer into the bucket to find my little red friend sitting at the bottom. I sprint up the sandy banks to find Mum. She’s reading a book, sunglasses on and tuned out from the world around her.

“Look at what I got,” I say with a toothy grin.

She’s very impressed. She should be.

And then in that moment, crab by my side, I embrace my mum and dad.

*

That was our last family holiday together. My last recollection of our happy family. One of my fondest memories.

How do you remember that moment, Mum and Dad?

A three-year old has no right to catch on to the intricacies of divorce. To notice the signs that something wasn’t quite right. Was our trip to Fiji a last-ditch effort to try and salvage what remained, but instead became the final nail in the coffin?

Since then, travelling has never been the same. Awkward holidays with the family were still a thing, but they were a different kind of awkward for me. My brother and I shared ‘Mum holidays’ and ‘Dad holidays’ growing up. For my brother, this was the standard – the way holidays had always been. He was too young; he didn’t remember family holidays the way I once did. The old family holidays.

We’d fly to our destination with Mum. Then a few days later, Dad would arrive, Mum would go, and we’d fly home with Dad the following week. The uncomfortable crossover, an exchange I usually mediated for the two, would go down at a mutual hotel or maybe even the airport as one arrived and the other departed. It was a weird sensation to say the least for a child. The moment of joy at seeing a parent at the terminal, only to farewell the other moments later.

My brother Dale couldn’t be fazed no matter what. To this day, he knows no different. He was too excited by the exhilaration of take-off, the adventure of finding shells on the beach and the thrill of getting our matching temporary tattoos to care about the separate holidays.

There was no way you could wipe the cheeky smile off his face. But for me, three years the wiser, I knew this was always not quite right.

How do you overcome the knowledge that your normal isn’t the normal for everyone else? How does it feel to get on a plane and not have to say goodbye to a loved one at the tender age of 10?

I was never ungrateful that my parents were able to take me on holidays; it’s just that every trip was shaded with an empty feeling. That desperate need to recapture any happy family memories that still existed. Deep down, I always just longed for a dorky family photo at Movie World. The whole family, not just three quarters of it.

I’ve moved on from family holidays now. I travel alone, sometimes with friends, but not with a parent in years. I’ve gone on my own adventures and explored the globe without the weight a divorced child sometimes must carry.

But for every temple in Japan I’ve been able to admire, every mountain in Hawaii I’ve been able to climb and every boozy night I’ve indulged in on the Gold Coast, there’s still one trip that tops them all.

So, thanks Mum and Dad. Because despite all that happened, I’ll always cherish that time we went fishing for crabs.

Cover by Simon Migaj 

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