One Last Dash to the Sea
Labor Day was right around the corner, and Jenna had been bugging Max to make one last “dash to the sea,” as she put it, taking the kids, the dogs and the Weber over for the proper send-off to what had been an action-packed summer. Between the river and the ocean, they had provided some old-fashioned family time, and Jenna wanted to capture the spirit one last weekend, before the girls headed off to school.
Sasha was going into middle school, an event that might have caused a greater stir, except for the fact that she had had numerous opportunities to participate in school-wide events. There had even been a low-key transition day, the last week of school, in which the sixth graders were invited to join the middle schoolers for an informal mix, which included the middle school band performing.
One of Sasha’s interests was music, and she had been taking clarinet and flute lessons since she was in fourth grade, though it was the drums she had her ear set on. Now she would get to play in the middle school band. She had a best friend who was also into music, and the two of them planned to navigate the world of music together.
Sasha’s little sister, Mindy, was going into fifth grade, and wanted nothing to do with music; she wanted to play volleyball, she wanted to play basketball, and in the springtime, she wanted to play softball. She loved nothing more than going on the family outings, because she was a fish out of water, and got to return to her favorite place to be, not caring a bit, if it was salt or fresh water, so long as there was plenty of it.
There was only one blemish on the whole family adventure/outdoor excursion thing, and that was Jenna’s fear of the ocean. She wasn’t afraid for herself, only for her girls. When they were smaller, she had never allowed them to go near the water unless she was there, but as they got older, and became better swimmers, she had relaxed her mindset, to allow them to go to the water with Max supervising. She had watched how attentive he was, any time either of the girls was in the water. He was relentless.
As this final Saturday unfolded, the last thing Jenna wanted to do, was ignore her instincts, when it came to the girls and water.
“You know the rules; listen to your dad and watch out for each other. Have fun!” They skipped off together, chatting as they were so capable of doing, despite the two years’ difference.
“Thanks for taking them down, Baby. You know I appreciate it. I would never let them go without you, and now I can take a nap.” She kissed him lightly, and drifted over to her lounge chair and her latest Elizabeth George.
On the way down to the water, they passed a young man, probably no more than 17 or 18, sitting on the sand. He looked relaxed, with a cream-colored surfboard casually set off to one side, a sleek seven foot, single-finned beauty, that Sasha would have died to ride, even if she had never done so before. The cream was offset with a ribbon of brilliant red, giving it a lively sparkle. She had watched the surfers over time, had watched them perch on what seemed an impossible craft, and she had watched them dance on the glistening surfaces of their boards, like doing ballet on the crest of a wave. She thought the surfers were awesome.
The young man glanced over at the girls and nodded, but made no other sign that he noticed their presence. Max followed, as the girls made their way down the beach to their spot, where the tributary emptied out into the ocean, and the girls could dip themselves in fresh water, after coming out of the ocean. They laid out the big red blanket, that was their trademark sand cover, and set down their books and sunscreen, and dashed down to the water.
When they asked Max if they could go back and talk to the surfer, Max told them he was bad news. “These surfer guys have nothing better to do, than sit around giving nice girls like you the eye. You’d be better off talking to that fat guy over there with his dog.”
It was still early, and they usually liked to lie in the sun and bake, before braving the cold NorCal ocean water. Now, instead of reading, they sat and watched as the surfer walked down in the opposite direction, and nonchalantly paddled out to where the waves began to gather form and speed. He seemed impervious to the cold, in his wet suit, as he maneuvered easily around, positioning himself for the waves, waiting, waiting, until the right one came along.
Then, having made the commitment to go for it, he paddles with all his might to gain speed, waits until he feels the wave carrying him forward, thrusting him at incredible speed, with all of the power and fury behind the ocean’s strength. It is up to him to harness this fury, direct the nose of his board parallel to the coast, and feel the wind and spray in his face, as he does a soft-shoe on the waxed surface of his board.
Failure to keep his curled toes perfectly placed, as he continuously shifts and balances himself, accounting for gravity, the wave’s forward momentum, and the slippery surface of the board, will mean a certain plunge into all that tumultuous, frothing, dirty brown water. There he will be battered about like an egg in a mixing bowl, the ocean’s agitation replacing that of the beaters, with the added attraction of the sand, ready to grind the skin from his nose and face, as he is pounded into the ocean’s floor.
So far, the surfer had managed to stay on his board, having had a couple successful efforts, but mostly finding that the ocean was behaving in quite an arbitrary manner, leaving his arms and shoulders aching with the effort to keep the board directed in the optimum direction. It was a lot harder than it looked, and no matter how much protection the wet suit provided, it still left parts of the surfer exposed to that frigid water, and chattering teeth lent a rhythm that he would have preferred to do without.
Inevitably, the girls took their own turn in the ocean, as the sun reminded them why it was that they were there. The standing rule was that they could not venture out beyond where the waves were breaking, because the undertow was unpredictable, and both girls knew better than to test destiny. Max preferred to stand where the blanket was, rather than at the water’s edge, for better visibility, as he kept his attention on the most precious and fragile of life’s gifts, just as he always did, when they were in the water.
He noted the two fishermen, off to the left, and the black labrador, frolicking about without a leash, paying little to no attention to its owner, a heavyset man, with a leash in one hand, and a beverage of some sort in the other. He noted the couple with the toddler over by the base of the cliffs, taking pictures of the child as he played in the sand, for what looked like the first time. Though he may have taken note of these other diversions, he did not lose his focus for even a moment, as he repositioned his sun glasses to minimize the glare of the bright sun.
Yes, both girls were still right down in front of him, maybe 75 feet out into the water, both still clearly visible, standing in stomach deep water, Sasha facing the oncoming waves, Mindy less inclined to be so attentive. But Max wasn’t really worried about Mindy, Miss Fish herself, he was more worried about Sasha, when it came to physical agility.
The fact that she was smart enough to face the waves was comforting, but it was not as though he was worried about her safety. After all, he was standing right there, with both of them clearly in his sights. And then suddenly, he did not have both of them clearly in his sights, because he found himself upended and then flat on his back, in the space of time that it takes to blink. He had lost track of the labrador, as it skittered around the area, and the dog had circled around and had come gamboling up behind him, and clipped him from behind at knee level.
Max went down on his back like a wooden sign post, crying out sharply as he dropped into the sand. He was taken completely by surprise, and his first impulse was to rise to his feet with a bellow. Before he could direct his wrath at the man, he saw that the man was pointing out toward the ocean, and with a start, he remembered the girls. In that instant, as he turned to look, he felt a premonition so forcefully, that it staggered him.
Where was Mindy? He saw Sasha immediately, her lime green top surfacing as the girl shoved up from the ocean’s floor, foam and suds cascading all around as the water swirled and swept everything before it, crashing tumultuously, and churning up everything in its path. Everything but Mindy. Where was his little fish? Desperate for some glimpse, but afraid to charge down to the water’s edge, for fear of having no visibility, he froze, his legs suddenly turning to a curious mix of jello and cottage cheese, about as substantial as a crate full of cotton candy, and just about as helpful.
The image of Jenna’s ashen face passed in front of his eyes, and he groaned aloud. What had occurred in the last sixty seconds, would take the rest of his life to explain. How do you explain about a silly dog? Or a silly wave? Or how critical timing is in the greater sphere of things? Could he just crawl into the ocean himself, and let it take him to a place where this nightmare was no longer possible, and Jenna’s eyes could no longer find him?
He saw a flash of red, and before he could even register surprise, he noted that the surfer dude had appeared out of nowhere, dived into the ocean, and was even now surfacing with Mindy in tow. He could see her writhing in discomfort, her body trembling as she fought to suck in the fresh air. The surfer’s board had become separated from him, as he had submerged himself beneath the wave, and now came floating up on the wet sand.
Fighting to regain some feeling in his legs, he stumbled down toward the water, unable to stop his tears from blending with the ocean water, as he tried to find some meaning to the whole absurd episode. One thing for sure, he saw surf boards in his future, make no mistake about that.
Far out, Dude. Can you show me how to hang ten?