Goodbye Dead Man’s Beach
In the late spring of a bitter windy day, I wiped the grits of sand from my face and stared down below to the foggy beach. This would be the first time I’d see flaccid bodies all lined up in a row, bloated and an almost-blue. I hadn’t wanted to watch or even glance a little. I’d wished to run away or at least close my eyes, but I had to see. This was another coming of a dream. Some seven days had passed, seven long days of waiting and wondering who would drown. I knew enough from my past and the way my dreams played out to realize death would be arriving on a Saturday—on a cold, cold Saturday.
I wondered as the workers desperately pressed and pumped on the already dying flesh, why life, or God, or whatever essence gave me these glimpses of future events, wouldn’t also go one step further and allow me to serve some purpose and exist as more than a detached helpless onlooker. Had I had a magic button to stop the dreams, I thought at the time I would have. But then I thought I would have missed the dreams in the way I would have missed my arm, or leg, or eye; the dreams were so much a part of me, a needed part, something I’d been born with which had served me in some sense; even though I couldn’t comprehend the reason, even though I cursed the visions and the following reality, I knew enough, innately or perhaps spiritually, to know the dreams were necessary.
The dreams would serve a higher purpose someday, I was told. Not directly, but in whispers, gentle reminders to be patient, to be watchful, and to wait. I would cry then, in my teens, in the same way I cry now, when the weight of the world is so heavy upon my shoulders that I wish for nothing but silence and the unknowing, to be like the mother across the street satisfied with her scrapbooking and classroom volunteering, and yearning for nothing more than the simple.
That’s what I longed for: the sweet simple.
Those dead bodies below on the beach had been a family, the emptied vessels now covered in black bags on the sands below had been minutes before living tourists who hadn’t heeded the warnings posted at Dead Man’s Beach about the dangers of the ocean currents and under-tow. One boy had fallen in off the rocks, and in response, each family member had leapt to their own death.
I have been terrified of the ocean, ever since the tragedy at Dead Man’s Beach. Add this to the horrific flesh-eating fish dreams I’ve had since I was three, and the time my mother’s boyfriend saw a shark take a chunk out of his best friend. (His friend died.) And I’ve been able to justify not going in the ocean for about twenty-five years.
Yesterday, I overcame my great fear of the sea. As I paddled out into the ocean on my surfboard, I was terrified. I trembled. I almost cried. I almost turned back. But I paddled onward.
I wasn’t planning on surfing at all while visiting Maui. But there I was, regardless of all my fears and misgivings, flat on my belly, in a borrowed, rather-stinky surf shirt, paddling over the waves. And I got up on my surfboard, not once, but at least five times and rode the waves.
They may have looked like little waves to the observer. But to me they were the biggest darn waves of my life.
I’ve realized I have spent much of my forty-some years living on my own Dead Man’s Beach. I’ve been counting my days. Worrying about lurking dangers. Terrified to be happy.
This evening, as I sat in a local bar having yet another fruity rum drink (a new thing for me), the musician played Here Comes the Sun, and I was brought back to a summer day in Oregon, when at the age of nine I was riding in the back of a pickup truck listening to that song. I remember at that age I had an intense feeling of happiness and freedom. It was one of the last times I remember feeling so elated.
Yesterday, when I rode the waves, I returned to that sunny day in the back of the truck. I walked off of Dead Man’s Beach and I found my sun again.
A wise man once told me that he asks everyday: “How can life get any better?”