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Christina Berke, CA

Senior Writer

Christina Berke grew up in Los Angeles. From an early age, she loved libraries and creating stories. She pursued writing throughout high school and college, completing a minor in Creative Writing at UC Berkeley. After teaching English for five years, she decided to fully dedicate herself to writing, moving across the country to pursue her MFA in Creative Writing at the New School of New York. She can be found wearing dresses and overusing the word persnickety.

As a Story Terrace writer, Christina interviews customers and turns their life stories into books. Get to know her better by reading her autobiographical anecdote below.

A Stranger Taught Me to Swim

I’m 30 years old, and by society’s standards, I’m an adult. I pay my own bills, I have a Masters degree, I lived with a boy. But put me in a large body of water, and I regress to a toddler being thrown in a sink-or-swim lesson: flailing arms, panicking cries, and jolts of terror. But this water phobia never stopped me from traveling and signing up for water-related activities like swimming with the dolphins or canyoning (which at one point, I had to jump from a cliff into a dark body of water; everyone stood nervously waiting on the other side after they heard the thud of my belly flop, fearing the worst). I even lived by the beach for a year, but never went into the ocean until my last week there, mother and sister by my side, jumping waves like I was a carefree kid.

Last year for spring break, my friend Jenny and I went to Costa Rica. We ended in Tamarindo, a beach town known for its surfer-friendly waves, where we signed up for a horseback riding-snorkeling trip.

After the scenic horse ride, we got to the beach and everyone excitedly put on their flopping flippers and damp masks. I took my equipment with me like I was going to use it, but I knew I would just be standing at the shore with my feet enjoying the tepid water.

After a while, an older woman with cropped brown hair came out of the water. “Hello.”
“Hi,” I said back, waving my free hand while the other held the heavy, wet flippers.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
“It really is!” I said.

I meant it. The sand was soft and white, the ocean was a translucent turquoise.

“The colors of the fish are incredible!”
“Mmm!” I nodded.
“Did you get to see any?”
“No, not yet.”
“Well you have to go out to the rock, over there.” She pointed to a land mass within sight, but all I saw were the tumbling waves in between us and that rock.
“I think I’m good here,” I said.

She must have sensed my trepidation since she walked me through how to put on the snorkel gear, how to swim with it, and what to expect while I was out there. She was so passionate, kind, and patient that I felt safe enough to go with her. She took my hand and before I knew it, I was swimming in the Pacific Ocean, face down, witnessing one of the most beautiful scenes I had ever experienced. This world was unbelievable: secret, foreign, special.

She was right. The colors of the fish were incredible–brilliant oranges, yellows and reds. I was so much in awe that I barely noticed some of the squirmy bodies fluttering past me. It was strangely peaceful.

We swam back to the shore, hand in hand, my heart thudding with adrenaline and pride. I saw Jenny wading in the ocean.

“Did you see those fish?” she asked.
“Oh my God, they were so beautiful!” I said.

The ocean didn’t have any souvenirs, any local dish, any bustling city drivers. It was just me, present and aware, experiencing this unbelievable ocean as I never had before.

And it all started with a stranger’s hello.

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