“I’m a full-time dreamer- just kidding. I’m in high school. They don’t allow that.”
Thicker Than Water
Whenever I came to the beach with my family as a child, my father told me, “Don’t touch the water here, Brian.”
“Why?” I used to ask, stars in my eyes when I looked at the world. The murky water of our private beach was full of stars, full of wonder, full of unasked questions. Soft sand, cracked earth, and gentle waves formed a world that I couldn’t understand—which frustrated me a great deal.
“You can play in the water at the public beach, but not here.”
Years later, even after his deployment overseas, even after his MIA title became so old and worn, even after his personal effects were returned to us, I never knew why.
Not that my mother would tell me. Not that my sister knew. Rather than tell me what was so terrifying in these waters, they ignored the topic altogether. “When you’re older,” Mom would say.
But now I’m older. Now I have a family of my own and a son with my eyes that I will one day tell, “Don’t touch the water here, Charlie.”
He has the same curiosity I still tote around to this day.
“Why do we come here then?” my sister used to ask.
Mom would smile at the wooden crosses on the opposite side of the beach. Dad used to do the same. “Because they want us to.”
I don’t know who the crosses belonged to, but I know the wind whistles through the splintering boards singing a song much sweeter than a bird ever could. I don’t know who put them there, but I know the waves never reach them, even at high tide.
Three little crosses.
Six wooden boards.
And we used to come once every two months. When Jenny and I moved out, my mother still came every first Thursday of the odd months of the year.
It was the fifth of May my mother passed. It was quietly in her home. Cancer has a way of tearing apart all the good in the world.
August rolled around, and my sister was up to visit. “When was the last time you went to the beach?” she inquired.
I shrugged. “I haven’t been there since January.”
I ignored her subtle comments that I needed to return. I ignored her direct orders that I should like a typical baby brother.
I ignored them for a year and a half until she herself fell victim to the dangers of jaywalking.
I brought my son. Six years old and a ball of fire, he bounced off the walls at home to the point I decided I just had to get him out. The drive lasted five minutes, and he slept the whole way there.
The aura surrounding the beach was different this time. Seagulls cawed overhead, circling as if something had died. The trees swayed in a gentle breeze that grew stronger by the minute. The waves still lapped against the hardened sand. The sea-salt smell of the ocean was masked by the overwhelming stench of seaweed.
Fresh from his nap, Charlie bolted towards the sea, and I caught his arm, more roughly than I had intended. “Don’t touch the water here, Charlie,” I chided.
He blinked, nodding once before plopping down to build castles and stretch an imagination I envied.
Across the beach, the crosses towered at uneven heights, the ground slurping them down one at a time. They were the reason the beach was disrupted. The wind still whistled through their splintering boards. They still stood against the weather. Interrupting the trademark triangle I’d come to see in my dreams was a fourth cross that had not been there on my previous visits. It wasn’t splintered at all, freshly nailed with the scent of cedar floating into the sea foam.
This struck me as odd. This was a private beach, owned by my family. There was no one around who could get in.
My mother and father never approached the crosses, but I simply couldn’t help it.
I didn’t drag my feet, the beach refusing to hold footprints it didn’t find worthy. A high-pitched ringing pinged in my ear, and I swore it was the crosses calling.
Kneeling down to read the words etched in, I squinted to see without my glasses. Freshly carved in the cedar boards was a name I’d chosen myself: CHARLIE MYERS.
Why my son’s name was carved into that cross, I’ll never know. The uneasiness filling my gut skyrocketed. “Charlie?” I called, whirling in the now growing wind.
To my shock, I found myself alone on the beach. “Charlie?” I shouted, madly sprinting for the half-finished tower in the sand.
Breath gone, temperatures dropping, I fell to my knees in the sand. A distinct scar had formed in the sand, the shallow trench stretching into the waves that grow into miniature tsunamis.
Although I was sure there was a red tint to the water, I turned my focus to the tree line surrounding the cove. “Charlie!” I shrieked, the wind fighting to push me over as I trekked closer to the trees. The waves crashed harder, then birds cried louder.
And all at once, the sounds evaporated–all but the one I hadn’t heard before.
Hammer hits iron.
Iron hits wood.
Slowly craning my neck over my shoulder to track the noise, I only had time to shudder at the cross bearing my own name before claws grabbed my ankles, and the ocean swallowed me whole.
Trampolines were and always will be the bane of my existence. My friends had them in their backyards, but my childhood home’s lawn will always consist of a garden and a lawn too lush to step on.
“No,” my parents had said whenever I’d go to a friend’s house, “you may not jump on that trampoline.”
Numbers, they’d throw at me.
Statistics of death by trampoline.
Do I look like a statistic to you?
Don’t answer that.
Nine years into my life, I broke that rule. I was at a friend’s, and he offered, and I shouted, “YES!” with no hesitation, and I was proud.
I jumped on that trampoline, and I did backflips and front flips. I had never known a sweeter taste of rebellion, independence, or individuality.
I jumped on that trampoline, and I was okay. I’m no statistic. And what I’ve come to realize is that life will be full of trampolines.
The risks aren’t a joke.
The rebellions you fight aren’t a joke.
Living life without jumping on a single trampoline . . .
Now that. That’s a joke.