This month’s writing prompts came in the form of three photos posted on Flickr. One was a rather vibrant photo of newly hatched robins – their necks outstretched, their eyes completely closed – truly gorgeous. The next showed a Goth trailer sitting unhitched in front of a view of the beach – a scruffy looking dog faced the camera, while a thin guy ran in the foreground. The final choice was a photo that reminded me of a local place called Hamilton Pool and a very particular day when I was around 15 years old. Here’s my submission (it’s “mostly” true):
It’s a Boy!
When your parents proudly announce, “you’re going to be a big sister!” You tend to envision some bald, squawking, attention-hogging critter invading your space and leaving a long, disgusting drool trail in their wake. At best, you picture them as the perfect little mini-me’s – whose bright future includes becoming your willing minion to boss around the house until they either grow a brain or grow to a larger size. I should mention here that I’m an only child. Sort of.
When I heard the news, I was 14 and my chubby cheeked baby brother turned out to be a 12-year-old skateboard punk who sported a faux hawk and a curled upper lip. He came as part of the “Beth, we’re getting married!” package. The only real perks were that he lived two states away and would only be around during the summers or the occasional holiday.
My first memory of spending time together was Christmas after we had finished moving into a new house. We sat in the new living room opening presents when the neighbors came by bearing baked goodies as a welcome to neighborhood. As the neighbors introduced themselves, my step-brother quickly snatched some horrible red, white and blue boots with tassels that my grandmother had knitted and waved them around shouting, “look at what Beth got!” As a good teenage girl, I was completely mortified and shrieked at the injustice of having to suffer a brother. I’m sure there was stomping (I’m quite the accomplished little stomper when motivated).
It took awhile for the neighbors to overcome the shell shock of our new family.
My step-brother and I were a study in opposites. Where I desperately wanted to fit-in, he did everything he could to stand-out. He would flood the house with Suicidal Tendencies, Agent Orange or Butthole Surfers and I would hole up in my room listening to the likes of Prince, The Police or Duran Duran. He liked skate boarding and flailing around in mosh pits, while I liked orchestra and talking on the phone for hours. It was shlock horror flicks like CHUD versus trashy Sci-Fi like Krull. Stage make-up complete with fake blood, oozing wounds and prop knives versus Frank Herbert, Roger Zelazney and the Apple IIe. I am Johnny!! Hello, please don’t notice me, I’m Beth.
Invariably, summer rolled around, Johnny came back into town and we had to suffer one of our first little family outings – a trip to Hamilton Pool. Blankets, towels, coolers and sunscreen were piled into the family car – a 280ZX. I don’t know if you’ve ever sat in a 280ZX, but I’m here to tell you the backseat is not meant for real people, much less real teens who have nothing better to do than to snap and snarl incessantly for 45 minutes. Being confined in a small space over a prolonged period while sitting next to some unwelcome toad tends to make one grumpy. The Texas heat didn’t help either. By the time Dad parked, we had successfully made everyone miserable. Mission accomplished.
We walked down the path to the pool, found our little spot and surveyed the swim hole tucked away in the small limestone cavern. Water spilled down from above forming a perfect little waterfall. People flew into the water from a rope swing. Swimmers called out to one another as they splashed around. People were laughing and our “happy” family ate our lunch in tense silence. Ignoring the 30 minute rule, we all slipped into the water and went our separate ways. My stepmother swam to a little overhang near the waterfall where the water slowly dripped off the ledge. Johnny headed towards the rope swing and I became Esther Williams – a Million Dollar Mermaid. I swam. I flipped. My legs rose out of the water and I kicked them in the air slowly. I was in perfect sync with myself.
As the hours passed, the cool of the water and the full and generous sounds echoing throughout this almost secret place began wearing away at our silent anger.
At some point, I sat on the shore alone with my brother and we talked – really talked – the first of many conversations we would have when we were alone. An unspoken truce was made – one that stated that in the presence of parents all bets were off, but in the cool quiet of a pool or a living room or any place that was “just you and me”, we were allies and sometimes maybe even siblings.
My family and older friends are probably having a moment, since they were either part of the story or have heard a different version it. For their sake (so I don’t have to hear about it later), I’ll fill in the missing bits. Once at Hamilton Pool we all went our separate ways as I mentioned. There was a woman who was there with several friend and her turn on the rope swing came right before Johnny’s. Out she went over the pool. There’s a moment on any rope swing when you’re supposed to release, when the rope has reached the point where it won’t go out any further. She didn’t let go. As she came back, her friends started screaming. She froze and came crashing back hard into the dirt and limestone wall. The force caused her to let go and her body crumpled and tumbled into the water. Johnny, somewhat oblivious to the drama, reached for the rope and everyone started screaming. The woman’s friends got to her, turned her over and floated her body using a partially deflated float. She was conscious, but couldn’t move. It seemed to take a while before EMS arrived (someone doubtlessly had to leave the park and call since cell phones were largely unheard of then). Once at the scene they got a brace around her neck, moved her body onto a back board and slowly lifted her out of the water.
The shock of the events greatly overshadowed any petty need to continue squabbling; the uncertainty of her story occupied the car ride home.
Around this time, the unspoken truce I mentioned was formed. We rarely fought when left completely alone and we did have some decent bonding moments. In fact, he’s probably the only person I’m willing to watch a horror movie with – his love of special effects and his ability to laugh at tense scenes as he picked them apart eased all fears that worm people with human faces were ever going to become a problem at our house.
Not only is this beautifully written but accurately recalled. I can still feel the tension in that backseat. It makes me smile to know that you and your brother had some good moments when alone, no matter how obnoxious you were in the presence of your Dad and the other stranger he brought into your life (wicked stepmom). Thank you so much for this memory from my *chosen child*.
Thank you, Charla! I love you! 🙂