The evening of commencement, a party in a backyard. I sip punch under a shade tree with Nora, Eduardo and Jennifer, while Nick and three other boys elucidate the ways to fall off a hammock.
I need no reminder that I am blessed.
One week later it’s Nick’s 10th birthday. He’s opted for a beach party this year.
I spend the morning at the market collecting food—too much as it turns out. I’m always afraid of running out of food.
The spot we’ve chosen, just south of lifeguard station #26, has become a Fern Hill hang out. Hallie arrives and sets up the canopy I’ve asked to borrow.
“You haven’t put me in a blog post yet,” she says.
“Yes I have. I’m going to tell everyone what a rock star your are,” I say.
Nick has decided to spend the day in the water with his boogie board. Nick is a water child.
“I’m going to show you something you won’t believe,” I said to him when he was two.
The only body of water he knew was his bath tub, the size of an orange crate.
“In fact, we’re going to completely blow your mind,” I said.
We took him to a swimming pool, his first.
“Look,” I said. “It’s all water.”
The pool, a few yards across, was empty, the breeze barely rippling the blue surface. Nick stared and stared. He wasn’t speaking then. He pointed, open-mouthed.
“Dada, will you come in with me today?” Nick shouted as he ran to the surf.
“I will,” I said.
Early on, the two of us would stand in six inches of surf, he between my legs, as the waves rolled in. The larger the wave the better, it seemed.
Once he slipped and fell just as a wave broke, disappearing a moment. I fished him out and raised him, laughing and sputtering, high above the water.
Later, lessons. Not that I wanted an Olympian, just a pool-safe kid who could climb back out if he fell in. After he started school, he grew braver and braver among the boogie boarders at Fern Hill, a parent always watching from the shore.
The water is warm but rough as I wade in to keep my promise. The waves, four and five-footers, are breaking down and fierce.
“Wolfie, you’re going to lose your glasses!” shouts Caroline, Jay’s twin, splashing me.
But how can I even find Nick without my glasses? I dive under a wave. My secret is to hold the glasses with both hands while under water. The wave passes over, the violence of it tussling my feet.
I emerge near Nick.
“You still have your glasses!” says Caroline.
“Magic!” I say.
I stay in an hour, watching Nick and his friends getting pummeled by the rough surf. The undertow is strong and pulls seaward. Lifeguards patrol for kids too far out, shouting at them to paddle back. I’m thankful Nick has more sense than that and isn’t among them.
“Do you body surf?” calls one of the other dads.
I’m tired of ducking giant waves. It’s been decades since I’ve caught a proper ride. Why not?
“Nick,” I say, “I’m done. I’m going to catch a wave in.”
I start to paddle as one approaches. I have no idea if I can still do this. The wave crests, drawing me upward. I’m in for it now, I think. Straight down to the bottom and nothing for it.
But the ride is soft. Soft and high and long. The wave befriends me, cradles me as if it knows. A thousand dollar ride.
Why have I waited so long?
I am deposited at last in two feet of surf, triumphant. For its goodbye, the wave washes over my head gently and I forget myself. My glasses slide off my nose and into the ocean.
As I feel them go I think it will be an easy thing to return to the spot and fish for them.
Half an hour later Nora finds me groping in the shallows, sans glasses.
“I shouldn’t have let you go in with them on,” she says.
The party ends in a blur. I can’t even drive home, but have to beg a ride.
The coming days take me into remorse, into plans, details to manage, eye appointments, reckoning and loss.
The lamented, lost glasses were progressives, complex and expensive. My prescription, it seems, has changed. I decide on a new pair of reading glasses as well. In for a penny, in for a pound.
The bill comes, exactly, to a thousand.
Knowing nothing opens the iron gates, and the sound of the gates opening awakens the beautiful woman asleep. Kabir says, “fantastic! don’t let a chance like this go by.
When I look back years from now, both watcher and watched, how shall I reckon the day? The cost of the new prescription? The time with Nick, the community of friends, infinite water, forgetfulness?
Isn’t that what I tell myself I want, to forget myself?
This is the last in a series of five posts. Here are the first four:
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