With a pinch of Lavender

Thesis segment 1

November 1, 2009
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I was sticky. The breeze came off the water and across The Beach. My mother poured the sunscreen on my back and rubbed it in. I looked at the overcast sky as she covered my neck. My eyes closed as her greasy hand wiped over my face. Chester crashed his pink tugboat into the sand, the dog watching.

“You’re done,” my mother said, “play in the tidal pool until I finish slathering your brother.” I stood up as she pushed the hair off my forehead. Over the wet sand to the long rock that broke up the beach, I climbed over the barnacles and into the cratered center. Squatted in the warm water hunkering my bottom to the rock, my knees were almost equal to my shoulders. I splashed the warm water over myself, trying to warm my skin against the late spring air. Chester stood so my mother could cover his knees and shins. His bushy brown hair already had sand in it. The dog smelled his back. Chester waved at me. Water squirted between my hands in his direction. Chester laughed. My mother zipped his red life preserver and stood up, pulling her long hair over her shoulder. She walked to my tidal pool with Chester.

“Boys, since this is a tradition, I think I should say something.” She took Chester’s hand and mine, pulling me up. The air met the water on my skin, causing my teeth to chatter. My mother continued.  “I am just so happy that every year, June first, we, as a family, go swimming in the ocean. It means so much that this is something we can accomplish every year, so that every other swim we take for the rest of the summer is warm as a pool in comparison.” She smiled down at us. My lips were probably bordering on purple. Chester climbed the rock and picked up a piece of light green kelp, pulling back my mother’s swimsuit strap. “Don’t you dare.” she said, not turning around. Chester giggled, trying to balance himself on the barnacles, his feet soft from a winter of shoes. “Don’t you do it Chester Arthur Sillman.” Chester let the kelp and straps go, pinching the slimy green leaf to her skin with a snap. My mother grabbed Chester around the middle, running to the water. She threw him in ahead of her. Chester bobbed in the water, kicking and splashing. My mother shouted up to me as I stood with my ankles in the tidal pool, shivering, “Come in TR, it’s not so bad.”

I wished she’d thrown me in too. Spring ocean water hurt to the marrow. Wading meant stepping further in, knowing that the feet that hurt would be joined by shins, and then knees. Wading was bones and skin and blood screaming, the body pleading, until numbness. Waiting for my knees to stop screaming, I submerged my thighs. Wading took hours, days. Chester splashed the dog’s back. Numbness reached my waist so I went under. Cold water on the face and head makes the lungs try to gasp. My eyes stayed open, the greenish darkness fuzzy with bits of sand and seaweed floating in front of me. I stood up, my lungs gasping, cold salt in my mouth. Chester doggy paddled towards the beach. Dragging my numb legs through the water, up The Beach, I made it to my towel. I didn’t understand how they could stay in so long. Small waves rose beneath my mother and Chester, big waves didn’t make it through the harbor. The dog jumped through the bits of foam, biting crustaceans.

When I warmed up and my mother and brother came out of the water, I took a green bough from the apple tree and tied my leather string to both ends. Like Robin Hood, I notched the outside of the points, locking the string in place. Because the wood was green it didn’t break apart when pulled. I made arrows with my leatherman, sharpening the points, notching the ends. I felt like a man, like my father, who went hunting in the fall with my uncles and his friends. I felt like a warrior, and a brave. I was going to kill, and bring home what I had killed. Other boys wouldn’t be men until their parents told them so, but I was.

Chester sat in the tidal pool, pouring water from a bucket and onto his boat. My mother sat in her beach chair, sunglasses on, her long hair hanging wet over the back, sand stuck to the ends. Her head was hanging over the back of her chair, air noisily coming in and out of her open mouth. Past the apple tree that hung over the sand, tiny and undernourished crabapples underfoot I went. I crouched in the grasses behind the tree where my mother took the dog to poop. The seagulls circled over the harbor, the tree, and the harbor master building. I took out my first arrow, firing it between the branches. It came back down. The gulls flew low, trying to get the mussels, clams and crabs at the low tide, finding old apples easier to pick up off the ground. One tried to land between me and the tree. I fired. The arrow hit it, bounding off. I notched another arrow as the gull started flying away. My arrow hit the gull between the wing and ribs. I didn’t it would actually work.

It squawked, wings not beating together, one fast, and one not completing the flap. I watched it hit the ground, further hurting the left wing. Blood colored the white feathers. The gull cried. The right wing kept trying to fly, but the left hung around the arrow sticking out of its side. I grabbed the gull. “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry.” I kept saying it. “I’m sorry I’m sorry.”  I pulled the arrow out, the blood dripping off the feathers, onto my stomach. Blood came out of it’s beak, the gull opening its mouth all the way, its small tongue like a red worm. I held it to my body, it would get better, I would fix it. “I’m sorry I’m so sorry.” It screamed some more, as I hugged it tighter to me. I whispered my sorries to it like a chant. The right wing pushed against my chest. The gull’s head moved back and forth, crying and leaking. My mother called my name. I couldn’t stop sorrying. Chester ran up the path behind the tree.

“Is it ok?” he asked. He reached his hand out to touch it. I jerked away.

“I’m fixing it! You’ll ruin it!” I yelled. A couple of tears fell on the gull’s feathers. They would help, tears and sorries would help. It would be fine. It would be great. It would come home with us and live in my room. I would have a gull and name it Derek. The gull screamed again, this time panting. My stomach and swim trunks were red with bird blood, white and gray feathers sticking.  Chester reached his hand out again, and I screamed. The gull screamed with me. The blood was warm between the feathers and my stomach. Chester would break it. I needed to fix it. I was sorry. I squeezed harder, the pinned wing pushing against me. My mother stood at the bottom of the path. The dog sniffed the gull. “I’m Sorry!”

My mother asked me to let go. I couldn’t.

“I have to fix it.” I said. She had to understand.

“Sweetheart, let it go, it’s dying.” She put her hand on my shoulder. I had to save it. I had to get it clean, the blood was making it sick, there was too much blood. I walked down the path. Chester was crying and my mother picked him up. I walked down The Beach towards the water. It just had to be clean. The gull pushed its wing into my solar plexus. The cold water sunk itself into my skin, biting me. Blood and feathers mixed with the dark green. The gull would get better. It lived in the ocean, it needed the salt. We needed to go under, to be clean, for the salt to polish us bright. My mother came up behind me and lifted me around my middle. The gull drooped. It was warm against the water. My mother’s arms pulled me backwards towards The beach. Screaming. I wasn’t clean. I was bloodied and feathered. My mother dropped me on the sand. The gull’s eyes didn’t close when its head hit the rocky ground.

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