By Alisa Blanchard
All rights reserved.
No part may be used without permission
The sun has yet to burn its way through the morning mist as mom stuffs me into the station wagon with my 3 sisters, 2 cousins, herself, and my pregnant aunt Lizzy. It is maybe 5AM at best and coolers, clothes, bathing suits, pillows and sun tan oil are all being jammed into any free spot around or on us kids.
Being one of the smaller children, but not a baby at 6 years old, earns me a spot between mom and Lizzy up in the front along with my cousin Simon. Simon is 9 months younger than I am; we both wear thick glasses, his show off blue eyes that match his bowl cut blonde hair. We have been charged with the important task of stewarding cigarettes, lighters, ashtrays and beer in our laps for the hour long drive. Meanwhile in the way back our siblings get free reign Lord of the Flies style, for a split second I envy them and their freedom but it is not long before Amber, my second oldest sister, starts to complain about Corry, my 2 year old cousin, poking her face.
“Deal with it.” Mom and Lizzy chime in unison as the car starts.
We’re on our way to PlumIsland, a favorite summer time destination for this brood of giggling, poking, teasing, singing children. I reach for the dial on the radio and spin it, watching the white peg float back and forth over the numbers. It is like a dance. Mom swats at my hands, waving her lit Marlboro inches from my face. I huff and cross my arms, whining “What! I didn’t do anything!”
Behind me my sisters and cousins conspire, they are braiding odds and ends into my long hair which flows over the seat, practically begging them to do something with it. My eldest sister Krista shows the younger kids how to pull my hair with their toes.
“Stop it,” I scream. Mom looks down at me with a glare. Turning to look behind me I tell her, “Mom they keep pulling my hair!” I hold a piece of paper up from my now knotted locks for Mom to see “Look what they are doing!” Behind me everyone goes quiet and still as children often do when they are trying not to disclose the trouble they are up to.
Amber pipes up “Oh there goes Isabel being a baby again!” Man I hate being the youngest, this sucks! We’ve only been in the car 20 minutes and already I want out. Simon nudges me, when I look he is pretending to smoke one of my mom’s cigarettes. Lizzy sees this and gives us both a glare; we chuckle and put it back into the iconic red box.
“I could be the Marlboro man,” Simon says, pushing his glasses up his nose.
“No you can’t! The Marlboro man is a cowboy, you’re just a boy,” I tell him. He pinches me and I pull his hair then we begin to fight with each other, Mom or Lizzy pries us apart. We sit with our backs to each other ignoring one another for a whole 3 minutes before we call a truce and play a game of “I’m going to the beach and I am going to bring….”
As we get closer to the ocean we roll the windows down and stick our tongues out to get the first taste of the ocean. Lizzy is making peanut butter sandwiches as we pull down the road to the parking lot of the state reserve. Simon and I know now is the time we can escape into the back with our siblings since mom and Lizzy are just as excited as we are.
As we park I exclaim, “I’m going in the water first!”
“No going near the water without us!” Lizzy is busy handing sandwiches to us as she shoots down my excitement. “Understand?” She is looking right at me with her brown eyes. Lizzy is really nice and I would hate to make her upset “Of course,” I promise.
We drag bags and coolers from the car onto the empty beach, eating peanut butter sandwiches on white bread with our free hands. After slathering ourselves in suntan oil to help achieve the finest sunburn possible, we run to the water to dip our toes before walking the shore to see what treasures we might find.
“Hey Isabel look,” Simon says as he tosses a giant glob of seaweed on me. Selena, my 8 year old sister, is behind him with a bucket of water which she dumps on Simon while he isn’t looking. We giggle as Krista comes to see what is going on.
“Can we go in the water now,” we plead with her. She shrugs and says “sure but not past your knees.”
The water is bitter cold as we rush in and splash each other. I sit on the edge and rub the water on my face and hair, kicking my feet in the waves. I stay in the water as much as I can, not just because I love it, but also because it helps to keep the greenhead flies from biting me. Lizzy comes and stands in the water with us and we are told we can go out to the middle of our thighs.
Loving the extra few inches to try my swimming out, I splash and plunge under the water, holding my breath until I can’t anymore. When I come up for air, water rushes over my face and I lick its saltiness off of my lips. Mom shows us how to wave ride, waiting for the wave to get close enough before jumping and letting our bodies move with the water.
Suddenly without warning I find myself being pulled under the water. My face hits the bottom as I move with the current out to sea, I am too weak to fight back and water starts to enter my mouth and nose. I roll over for some reason and look at the sky above me when a teal blob comes toward me; my arms reach out for it before falling asleep.
I am on the ground, my aunt is over me with her swollen belly telling me, “Come on Isabel, and spit it out.” Crying I sit up and grab her. Mom comes running toward us her over processed red dyed hair lifting in the breeze and wraps me in her arms. My sisters all run to join her and everyone is around me to see if I am ok. I am shaking in Mom’s soft arms; she brings me to the blanket and wraps me up in 3 of the sun warmed towels where I sit for the rest of our time at the beach. I am just not feeling like I want to be there anymore and spend the time tossing Cheese Nips to sea gulls and nibbling on my sandy hair.
Each of my sisters is fighting over who gets to hold me or play with me, they were really worried. Even Krista is being nice to me and brings me a star fish in a bucket to look at. Mom and Lizzy start to pick up when the sun is starting to head toward the horizon again, today we don’t fight when it is time to leave. Somehow we all just feel lucky.
As the car is being packed we are told to change our clothes and to dust all the sand off our bodies. Krista helps me to get the sand from my hair, off my feet and out of my crotch. We get into pajamas and climb into the car.
“Can Isabel sit back here?” Amber is trying to negotiate a new sitting arrangement and Mom ponders it out loud with Lizzy, “We could put the seat down and put them all in the back, what do you think?”
Lizzy nods, “Yeah, good idea.”
Selena is next to me and she grabs my hand and looks at me, “Hey want to sit with me?”
“No, she’s sitting with me,” exclaims Amber.
Mom shakes her head and tells us, “Everyone in the car and figure it out in there.”
“Do I have to sit back here with the ‘kids,’” inquires Krista. Mom tells her she can squeeze up front if she wants to. Simon and Corry fall asleep even before we leave the parking lot and we don’t try to wake them.
On the way home my sisters play with my hair putting it into braids, only this time without the paper. They sing songs and as we start to fall asleep, lulled by the rhythmic motion of the car and warn from a full day in sun, Selena tells me “I’m glad you’re ok.”
“Yeah, me too,” whispers Amber in the dark.
Krista confirms, “Ehh, you’re alright, now shut up and go to sleep all of you.”
I close my eyes and fall deeply to sleep, letting the day slip away like the water breaking on the shore.