July 11, 2012

Most of my life I have been around the water.  As a child it was the Gulf of Mexico. Then for a ten year stint into early adulthood, it was the Atlantic Ocean.  Then back to the Gulf.  My earliest beach memories are planted in the soft sugary sands of the Florida panhandle.  The quiet warm beaches there were cushioned by turquoise waves trimmed in sea foam frosting and summer after summer they were mine.  The waves there were sometimes gentle and sometimes ferocious, at least through the eyes of a three or four year old.  The sensation of having surges of salt water eroding my nasal passages as a wave tumbled me over and over is one that, to this day, elicits an image of my mother who could not swim, trying to find me in the water as one searches for a piece of treasured jewelry that has been clumsily dropped into the frothy moving tide.   You see it, thrust your hand into the water to retrieve it and in an instant it has moved away again.  So you glue your eyes to the thing and chase it into the shore…..and out to the horizon.  Into the shore and out to the sea.  Sometimes you are lucky enough to rescue it and sometimes you are not.  Summer after summer my mother was forever in a panic about the moving water trying to claim her medium rare blonde children.  My father was forever warning my sister and me “Do NOT go out too far! You have no idea how dangerous it is out there!  The undertow will get you.  Some days the undertow is very bad and no matter how hard you fight it, it will get you. Don’t go out too far!”  He spoke these words like a master storyteller whispering ghost tales.  The warning was sufficient, for what I heard from his lips was not that the water itself was hungry for children, but that what lie beneath it was.  I heard nothing about tidal pulls.  What my little ears understood was the dark warning about the most feared amphibian known to the world, THE UNDERTOAD.  Yes, HIM.  The giant frog-like creature that hovered beneath the surface waiting…waiting…waiting for just the right moment to reach up with his reptilian suction clawed extremities to pull me down under the waves and into his grasp to forever keep me there.  Munch on me perhaps.  Hold me prisoner.  THE UNDERTOAD would get me.  I knew HE was out there for I had seen many Japanese sci-fi movies.  After all, this was the sixties.  Some days he was very, very  bad and no matter how hard I would fight, he would get me.  Ahhhhhhhh!  Sometimes I would quietly stand on the shore and stare at the same spot for long periods of time hoping to catch a glimpse of the creature who’s snub nosed lizard head thing  would surely reveal  itself in a desperate attempt to capture a child or a fish or a gull.  If I focused long enough at the same place on the water, HE would  eventually become careless and show his foreboding elusive bad ass self.  Sometimes I would spot a ripple in the water far, far from shore and I knew it was HIM.  HE was hungry and he was getting clumsy for this was a day that HE had been declared bad.  My telepathy summoned HIM.  “C’mon you coward!  Bring it on!  Show your face!  I dare you.”  Yeah.  That’s what I thought……

I never mentioned a word of my keen insight to my nervous mother or my protective father.  There was no need to do so and frighten them even further, for this was my private little communal moment with the otherworld beneath the water.  Because I had knowledge of HIM and HIS ways, HE would never, never get me.  I would never go out “too far.”  After all, survival is all about keeping your enemies close, you know?  It is.  It truly is.  Have a nice summer.


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