Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Day I Could Have Been a Pirate

The weekend before my thirteenth birthday will always live in infamy.
I do not want to have my birthday.  Every film I’ve ever seen and ever book I’ve ever read gives testimony to the sudden change of character, the nasty switch of teenhood. I do not want to rebel. I do not want to find my life filled with drama or my parents angry with me. Twelve has been a good year for me, one I hate leaving behind—I am popular, as my status as “nerd” has neither been confirmed nor made me a social pariah, and I am friends with boys rather than terrified of them.  I am confident for the first time in years.  However, all searches for Neverland rpove fruitless, and I must grow up after all.
This weekend, I am camping with my youth group in the wilds of Hanna Park, Jacksonville.  I am one of two girls on the trip, and my father has come with me because my mother does not like sleeping on the ground.  There is also the undeniable fact that I am a daddy’s girl.  Some of my favorite memories are business trips with my dad where I am privileged to be his assistant. 

 After our first night in at the camp ground, we hike to the beach. My friend, Brennen, brings his boogie board. “I’m going to sled down the dunes,” he tells us.
Brennen always has new ideas. He is tall and skinny with dark hair and eyes, and, when he smiles, it is bright and gentle. All the girls have a crush on him, but he’s too shy to acknowledge it.  I am filled with butterflies every time he smiles at me. 
The beach here boasts no true dunes, but there is large bump--almost a hill-- of sand with vegetation clinging to its edges as if refusing to relinquish the land to the sea. It looks like a scene from The Swiss Family Robinson.  We slide down the slope, denying that it is a complete and utter failure. We only scoot a few feet before the board loses momentum and sticks, but we are Floridians, after all, and we have no idea what real sledding feels like. To us, this is an epic adventure.
One of our group does not participate in the sledding. He digs under the roots of a tree that grows on its own little lump of sand so that the roots, free of earth, form a little cave.  Chuck scoops sand with his hands feverishly, and yells,  “Guys! Come ‘ere!" Freckled and frantic, he gestures at the hollow. “I feel something! I think it’s a chest! A treasure chest!”
We go into a frenzy. Chuck is shoved out of the way as all of us begin digging and dream of fame and riches, of all that glitters. Chuck chants, “Anyone who helps gets fifty percent! All of you! We’ll split it fifty-fifty!”
True to my nerdhood, I am the only person who finds this funny as one cannot share anything fifty-fifty with five people.  At most, we will have 20% each, but that's enough for me. I'll have an adventure out of it, as well, like something out of my story books.
We finally loose a metal chest from earth and root. It is brown, rusted over the years, and is not large, roughly one foot wide and two feet long.  Brushing back the sand, we find an inscription: “1945. Rocket Model X235.” We hesitate only for a moment, worry that the box may explode, before losing all sensibilities and spring, but the lid is rusted shut and refuses to be pried open.  What we don't realize is that this is a merc,y that we should abandon it completely. We, however, are blinded by dreams and tug at the box relentlessly.

In our scrambling, we attract a trio of onlookers, older teenage boys, who have the bright idea to begin dropping the chest on the boardwalk to break it open. Perhaps they are homicidal, hoping it will explode.  More than likely, they are as naïve and stupid as we are. 
So we drop the chest on the wooden board walk.
A clatter of the lid and handles.

The lid flies free, and a stench fills the air.
It is wet, heavy, with all the essence of rot holed away for years, folding over and over on itself until it has multiplied a hundredfold, until it is tangible.  To this day, I have never smelled anything half as vile.
A tarp tumbles out of the chest, a parachute, we think, with a bulge on one end. It rolls limply onto the sand, curled like a lima bean, the size of my forearm. Brennen shuffles his feet next to me. “If that’s a baby, I’m going to throw up. Oh, I hope it’s not a baby,” he swallows.
Even in the midst of the stink, I find this touchingly tender of him.

Unable to bear the suspense, Brennen moves forward, one hand cupping his nose, though it does no good, and seizes a corner of the tarp. He jerks it, and the bundle rolls free.
It is not an infant or a rocket.
It is a pelt. A small, damp, dark piece of fur. A slab of flesh of hair.

Chuck no longer chants about splitting treasure or wears any pride. He has uncovered an abomination.
Unable to leave it for sheer horror, we exchange theories about the thing’s identity. I think it is a terrier that once played fetch with his owner on this beach, their favorite spot, and his name was Ticker, indicated by a silver watch also inside the chest. The broken timepiece may very well mark the tragic hour in which Ticker passed.  I also speculate that the owner was Egyptian, but had no way to practice mummification in the ways of his ancient people, so he wrapped his pet in the parachute that had saved his life fleeing Nazi fighter pilots. The other girl on the trip, Amanda, compliments me on my imagination but laughs incredulously. To this day, we don’t know what we found.
Back at camp, we shower, scrubbing desperately but futilely as the chest's stench clings to us like leeches.  That night, Amanda and I are stationed in her mother’s camper, and I tell her all about the book I am writing because I am too jittery to sleep. Amanda tells me that I had better publish it because it sounds wonderful.  It has been thirteen years, and I am still working on that same book. 
That night, there is a thunderstorm, and we wake to find my best friend, Ryan—whom I have known since diapers—huddling and dripping puddles in our camper.  He makes a sarcastic comment about the privilege of females, smirking, as is his nature.  Aparently, the boys’ tents have flooded in the deluge.  As we sit in the camper that night with our drenched companions, now protected from the elements, Ryan and I know we will be friends forever.  His parents have planned our wedding, which we are not keen on. One does not marry one’s sibling, be it siblings by love or by blood.  Still, there is some prophecy in it.  Despite a falling out that has rendered us unable to speak of the past, eight years later, Ryan and I are in a wedding where he is the groom, but I am not, by any means, his bride. He marries my best friend, Julie, and, within a year, I become his sister-in-law. We are bound since birth, siblings by law.
The next morning, the boys and supplies are still damp, and none of us have slept well.  The adults seem to think this weekend a moderate failure.  I, however, find it a roaring success and will have a very, very good story to tell when I get home.
I do love a good story.

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