Summer of ‘03

Hong Yao Minh (BP73)


If you like the old romance novel, made into a movie, “Summer of ‘42”, you might like this new story about me and my recent love affair in this “Summer of ‘03.” It is a true story and none of the characters are fictional.

Part I

Last weekend, for the first time in exactly thirty years I got to see my once-upon-a-time love of my life again. I had put her aside and out of my mind for such a long time that I assumed the relationship had permanently ceased to exist. However, it had not. Well, how did the romance rekindle again ?

Recently at a party, Dzung, one of my high school classmates from our coastal hometown in Vietnam, told me that he had found “her” a couple of years ago. She lived in a small coastal town in the North Bay, two hours drive from San Francisco. My friend asked me whether I would be interested to seeing her again. I said yes, with my wife Tanya’s blessing, because she had made me promise that I would not start even a platonic relationship with “her.” Besides, she knew that Dzung would accompany me anyway so nothing could go wrong. If my friend and I were going to do anything stupid, the truth would be learned eventually since we men are not born to be good liars.

So we set out for a visit last Saturday, even though Tanya could not join us for the trip. I was so excited like a kid waiting to open presents on Christmas day. Afraid of missing the alarm clock set for a 4 a.m. wake-up, I did not sleep well.
Well, it was a lot of hard work to start an affair at this stage in my life, let me tell you. I had to tiptoe out of my house at 4:30 a.m. Saturday to meet my friend so we could drive together. I glued my butt to the car seat for three and a half hours to get to her town somewhere in the Mendocino/Santa Rosa counties. I then trekked my sleep-deprived, zombie-like body, along with some forty-pounds of outfit and gear, for about half a mile in order to reach her place. Finally, we made it.
Her place was very cold, wet and intimidating, cloaked by a sense of serenity and tranquility… well, it was all worth it. She was still as beautiful as ever but somewhat colder. She was very determined as always. On the surface, she looked calm and reflective but deep-down she could be as rough and turbulent as I had known her to be a long time ago. I’m sure she has continued to ruin many lives now as then, because she remained fit, beautiful and invincible, while we men have gone by the wayside, slowly but surely.
For the first ten minutes with her, I was very nervous and scared, not knowing what to do, perhaps I had been domesticated for too long. I just tried to remain calm and went easy with her. My breathing was very hard and my heartbeat was deafeningly loud. After a while, we started to play together and had a great time.
“Man, she was tough,” I said to myself.
She tossed me around like a ragged doll. She wrestled with me and held me down. She pushed me back and forth relentlessly.
I must have gasped for air a few dozen times in the couple of hours with her. If one were to observe our passionate act, one would think it was a torrid love scene and that she definitely had the upper hand. I did not recall that she was this rough when I last hung out with her in the early 70s.
Had my fountain of youth been running low or worse yet, dried up in recent years ? Now, I understand why men with weak heart conditions could easily perish in her hands if they tried to immerse themselves in her beauty and have a good time with her.
We did not talk at all because I was trying to recover my precious breath. By flirting hard with me, she expressed her happiness to see me again after such a long time.
It brought back so many wonderful memories of the time we were last together back home, decades earlier. I’m sure some of my classmates would be jealous of me if I revealed her name to them. They also knew her very well growing up together in the same coastal town back then.
Well, after about two hours at her place and being worn out by her, I had to quit so I could save the last few ounces of energy for the one-half mile trek back to our car. She was even nice enough to give me some of her homegrown fruit as a parting gift for me and Tanya.
I am not going to reveal her name because I don’t want my friends to look her up. One of these days, when they are in town, they will try to pry her name out of Tanya, eventually.

Part II

Last Saturday, I went diving for abalone (fruit of the sea) with a few friends off the coast in one of the Mendocino state beach parks where abalone harvesting is allowed. It was the first real dive for me in thirty years. I was so exhilarated and thrilled to be able to dive again after such a long time. Better yet, I was lucky to bag the limit within one hour.
In California, the limit was three abalones per day up to a maximum of 24 per season from June until the end of December.
The abs had to be at least seven inches long for legal-catch size.
Only free diving was allowed, no scuba diving.
It was a nice day with some overcast. We dove at low tide.
The deeper one could go down, the bigger were the abs. However, it could be risky if your health condition is not up to par.
I grew up in Danang, a coastal town in the Central region of Viet Nam. During my teenage years, I spent a lot of time (i.e., almost daily) at the beach during the summer. My friends and I were a bunch of wandering beach boys or better yet, beach bums. To escape the long, humid and sizzling hot summer months, beaches were the right place to be.
To my diving partners of years past—I was thinking of you guys while I was in the water. As a matter of fact, at each dive, I grinned at the same time I bit hard on the snorkel mouthpiece, to suck in as much air as possible. For the first ten minutes or so, I was so nervous that my breathing and my heartbeat competed for my attention ; they made very loud noises.

Nowadays, diving gear and accessories are just awesome. When we were younger, we used to dream about and drool over all these things in the diving magazines. They even have antifogging gel for the mask and it works wonders. The snorkel is water-sipping proof and has a swivel mouthpiece for instant positioning. The wetsuit (long john and inside hooded vest) really work well. I was able to stay in fifty-degree water for more than two hours and still felt very comfortable. The weight belt was a real pain but a must-have to counter the wetsuit buoyancy. Diving with wetsuits and weights takes some practice. The movement is somewhat limited.

While diving for abs, I saw fish the size of my arm. Some divers were spearfishing and caught some nice sized red rock cods.
It reminded me of my CO2-powered spear gun. To this date, I’m still convinced that ocean diving is much better and more fun than fishing from the shore. It’s more work and physically demanding but offers a lot more action and excitement as well.

Well, I had a great time and I’m grateful to Dzung for inviting me along and to Tanya for her generous, unselfish understanding in letting me rekindle my romance with my real mistress, The Sea.


* Summer ’03 by Hong Yao Minh is excerpted from “Reflections of Ageless Muses”, collective works by artists and writers from the Creative Writing class (California – 2010)