I was fortunate enough to find a few sanctuaries around Sydney in my tumultuous youth. I find that if I neglect my visitations, I can’t settle. The first time I discovered this place, I was fourteen years old. I had run from the institution of where I had found myself. It was summer, and I looked longingly through the gate, incredulous and transfixed by the fun and frivolity I saw. These people had not a care in the world as they reclined on the sun lounges and waded in the water overlooking Sydney Harbour. I was both enchanted and detached from the spectacle, a few minutes by foot from my own nightmarish existence. A bird in a gilt-edged cage, put outside to witness other birds flying free.
The place where I was living cared little for me, and I later discovered that they hadn’t even noticed I was missing, such was their lack of interest. The next time I wandered, I had managed to scrounge up the modest entry fee to the baths. I was safe here. No monsters laid in wait, just fish, weaving between the people. The salt water cleansed my body, as it did my mind. I floated, I waded and I reclined. I could plan a future here. I could dream big, and imagine living to sixteen. I could imagine I lived in one of the lovely homes nearby and had slipped out for a dip. I would cry as I left to go up the hill, back to my prison. The baths were sacred ground, untouched by evil.
My sanctuary never left my thoughts or heart, and when I had my daughter, I couldn’t wait to bring her here. I had a moment, when I first saw her as a toddler, playing in the sand, and swimming in the water. I survived, and had introduced my daughter to my paradise. As nonsense once again rained down on me, I took my daughter back to the baths.
We found shade under a grand old tree, and ate the most splendid chips. We swam with the great-grandchildren of the fishes I had once encountered, and experienced the reunification only a sea breeze can offer. I was home.