Alive

Posted Tuesday, 20 December 2005, 7:36 pm

I don’t remember precisely how old I was. Had to be somewhere between seven and ten years old I suppose. I was a Cub Scout at the time, I’m pretty sure.

The circumstances are very gray. Possibly the trauma of that day caused a lot of other details to be forgotten.

A friend—another cubscout—and I, and possibly one other kid, had been taken to the beach by my friend’s father. It was just one of those outings you do during summertime. I think it was summertime. We went to Pescadero Beach.

We were just kids, and we were all exploring. We had all gone up on a small plateau of sorts, an outcrop of rock that was relatively flat—sloping somewhat towards the ocean—that jutted out away from the coastline. It was perhaps a dozen yards across and deep.

The entire shelf of rock was covered in a fine layer of seaweed, a short, rubbery carpet that at one moment might provide a good grip for your footing, and the next moment your feet could come right out from under you. You had to step very gingerly.

The father kept us pretty close together as we walked around on the plateau. We all kept close to the shore side, not venturing anywhere near the watery edges.

Then I was underwater. It happened with no warning. My back had been to the ocean, I’d been looking down for crustaceans and other fauna on the rock. The sensation was unique—it was as if I was tethered in a wind tunnel, somehow held by my neck, with my feet pointed out towards the ocean, suspended in the cascade of receding waters.

Then it was over in a matter of moments. I was struggling to stand up, but I still had that ‘clamp’ holding me near my neck, another odd feeling.

Then I looked up, to see the father clenching the collar of my shirt at the back of my neck. And doing the same with the other boys (no, he didn’t have three hands – but somehow he’d grabbed on to the third kid too).

He hadn’t uttered a word or sound. He simply eased his grip as he became sure the tide of water had receded for good, and we all stood up, and scurried off the plateau. Oh, I’m sure us boys exclaimed about it, how exciting it was, wow. But the father never brought it up; his actions were instinctive, there was no time to react otherwise, he did what came naturally, certainly nothing  to make a fuss about.

I owe that man my life. His split second reaction—saving not just his own son, but two other boys—was an amazing act. His unsensational attitude in the aftermath was so unsensational that not long after, I forgot about the whole incident. I’ve reflected upon it only a handful of times in the course of my life, but as I’ve aged, I’ve come to really understand what an act of heroism it was. True heroism—not the vulgar, tabloid heroism we have today, with "heroes" waiting for the TV crews to show up and interview them.

I don’t even remember his name. His son’s name was Gary. That’s all I remember.

And the fact that my life could in a split second have ended nearly forty years ago.

Thank you, father of my childhood friend.

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