The Value of Family
When Christine had shown up from Florida, I knew I wanted to take her everywhere and show her all the things that made SoCal special to me. The Claremont Colleges having been my old stomping grounds in high school were on the list for sure. Where else could you get that feeling of being back east in California? Then there were the natural elements that made the area so wonderful. The mountains that surrounded the valley I had grown up in, and just a couple of hours to the north or the east would bring you into the desert lands where the silence could swallow you up. However, on that day it was the beach that was my priority.
Problem! Mom was making me take my younger brother and sister with us. I resented her for making me take them. After all, Christine had come to see me and the sights, not help babysit my two youngest siblings! Angrily, I loaded them both into the back of the station wagon with their things, and pulled out of the driveway. About half the way there Christine looked over at me and noticing I was still pouting, she said, “It’s OK, they aren’t misbehaving and I really don’t mind.”
On hearing her say that my attitude brightened and I suddenly felt we would have a great day.
Now I had always found it odd that it could be sunny and hot in our inland valley and yet a drive to the beach could find you ten degrees cooler and facing a cloudy and overcast day. Such was the case this day and I was disappointed. Well, there was still the cave to be seen, and later in the after noon found us scrambling over the rocks to investigate!
As we rounded the last rocky outcropping I noticed that the little bay was a bit too small. I realized that the tide was coming in and we needed to take a peek at the cave and then get out of there before it was too late.
I told Christine what was going on, and then yelled to the kids to stay close. We walked into the cave, gave the requisite shouts to hear our echos, and then came out to go back.
We had only been there what seemed a few minutes and already the waves were crashing against the lower rocks. Scrambling up the lower formations we were being sprayed with the fanning water as each wave broke. We were screaming with each wave, and then laughing because the water was so cold. We had become drenched!
Suddenly, a very big wave rolled in and instead of breaking like all the others it just continued to roll right over our pathway. There was now about two feet of fast, churning water hitting our shins. I froze.
Quickly scanning the outcropping for my brother and sister, I saw Alison and Christine bolt for the cliff face and grab on like crabs in their effort to not be washed away. Clinging there their faces looked so pale against the wet and darkened rock. The wave broke against them, and then began to retreat. The force of the retreating water was causing me to me lose my footing. When I looked back I was panicked to see Aaron being swept over the edge of the rocks and out to sea.
It is amazing what detail your mind can store in a situation where you face so much trauma. I was once told by a doctor that the adrenaline in such situations will cause your brain to go into overdrive, and instead of getting just the general information from the situation, your brain records every single millisecond of detail and it plays in your mind like slow motion…
Aaron was floating over the rocks, his face white, looking terrified. There was no screaming of “HELP!” like in the movies, it was just terror and scrabbling to find something to hold on to. Breaking from my frozen state I tried to run to him and catch him if I could, but the four feet between us might just as well have been forty. The ocean had garnered a prize that day and was not going to let it go! I lunged for him but missed my grasp. In my mind I was hearing myself explain to my parents how I had allowed my baby brother to be killed that day on the cliffs, and I knew they would never forgive me. Never.
I see my brother dig his fingers into the holes on the rocks edge, the water is dragging his legs and body straight out behind him and then seems to let him go. Straining, he pulls his body back to the rocks. I see the muscles and tendons in high relief along his arms, his legs and feet are pistoning against the razor edges of the rock bluff, and then, he is free. Laying there, his chest heaving, he begins to cry.
By this time Alison, and Christina are at my side. We help Aaron up and quickly get off the rocks. Safely on the sand we carefully check Aaron to assess the damage. He has a few scratches on his arms and legs, his shorts are shredded and so is the end of his left big toe! (I will spare you the details, but just know it was horrific looking!) We took him to the first aid station where they patched him up, and then we left. We’d had enough of the beach for one day.
That was forty years ago, and every time I remember that day, my selfishness shames me. Remembering the terror on those rocks, when I thought we’d never come back from that one last wave, is when I realized how much my brother and sister meant to me, and that it could have all ended so differently.
Professor Tom Morris, who teaches Environmental Biology at Fullerton College, posts this photograph with the admonishment to “Go at low tide.”
Hm… YA THINK?
NOTE: Please kindly click the photograph to link back to its source and view the many other amazing photos Professor Morris has posted to his website. Thank you!
From The Daily Post who gave us this line to use in our writing today:
“I thought we’d never come back from that one.”