It's Flashback Friday, gang. Why not? Recently, I've been finding magic in unusual places. Tonight's story, however, is real. It occurred in the late 1970s, during one of my family's August trips to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. It is sad. It is creepy. It is kind of gross. And it is a childhood memory which simply refuses to leave me.
two-week stay, unloaded
the car and helped Mom make the beds as quickly as humanly possible. Then, all six of us headed down to the Boardwalk before our annual first-night dinner
at the Crab Pot, to assess what was new since last year. My brothers and I were mostly interested in mini-golf, arcades and rides, while our parents lamented the demise of the old chicken stand. But something weird was in the air. I didn't notice it until my older brother pointed it out, but then it immediately became palpable, even to my ten(ish)-year old senses.
the usual happily-milling crowds, we found a couple of hundred people gathered
at the edge of the Boardwalk near Rehoboth Avenue. They were all watching a
hovering helicopter and several small boats very close to shore. Three
black-suited divers were in the water, disappearing for a couple of
minutes at a time, just beyond the waves. Word was efficiently passed
from mother to mother that a boy had disappeared in those waves not two
hours prior, and the operation was now focused on finding his body.
did not find a body that night, and the next day the search was called
off. Grownups seemed sad. The big kids were fascinated. Little kids - like
me and my younger brother - were spooked. Playing in the waves had
a new potential hazard, as we were sure at any moment a dead kid would
brush against our feet. Our father explained as carefully as he could just how a submerged body works - rolling on the ocean floor, potentially catching a current that takes it many miles away, and so forth. Still, we were afraid.
We went about our vacation, but there was a
haunted quality to everything. Even the magical boardwalk, with its
rides, arcades, cotton candy and Nick's Pizza, was different. That body
was out there in the ocean.
We stubbornly went ahead with our
nightly family walks on the beach, and there were plenty of chilling
moments there, too. Any odd shadow in the sand or surf looked liked a
body, and some were quite convincing until proven to
be otherwise. I secretly hoped we would be the ones to find the body, and I assumed it would be at night, for maximum creepiness. I gave myself more than one nightmare, thinking about it night after night. What would it look like? Smell like? Would the eyes be open? Would stuff already be living in it? It terrified me, but it also lit a new spark in my young imagination, because it was real - finding that body was not impossible. Now, I know boys are stupid, but rest assured, Mom made sure we all had the proper appreciation and respect for the fact that a boy - not that much older than myself - had been playing one minute and dead the next, that his parents were devastated, that it could have been one of us, and that it wasn't "neat." Still, it kind of was. It was electrifying, in spite of all the negatives.
About a week after the drowning, my brothers and I were
in our beds in the awesome front bedroom of our rented Philadelphia
Street house when a beach patrol truck (they weren't called SUVs, yet) roared past, headed toward the
beach. It was followed immediately by an ambulance (no sirens) and
several police cars (again - no sirens). We knew. The body had been
confirming our creepiest fears, it was found at the end of OUR
street, where we'd been playing in the surf for a week, and where we had
poked a washed-up jellyfish with a stick that very evening.
The fact that a boy had drowned was not fun, even to a little kid, but
this vacation enjoys special status in my memory. It was exciting to be
that creeped-out by something real, at that age. It gave our whole
family a common ground we didn't often enjoy. We were all spooked, and
somehow that unified us - especially me and my brothers. It wasn't
exactly Stand By Me, but it was still very cool and utterly unforgettable. Somehow, death had become magic. Dark magic, perhaps, but magic nonetheless.
The only way it could have been more gross would have been for us to find the body. The only way it could have been scarier would have been for the body to have never been found. ::shudder::
There. This concludes our flashback. I'm going to go watch a bunch of cartoons or a Will Ferrell movie or something. See ya!