The Swelling Tide

by racherickson

Cool breeze brushes the boy’s face as he steps onto the soft sand. Voices from families fill his earnest ears, embracing the atmosphere around him. He grasps his father’s hand as he glances out towards the blue monster, crashing down on the wet shore, taking in whatever lies in its path.

It is magnificent.

The boy trudges through the sand, the breeze makes the tiny rocks hit the back of his legs as his feet kick up the terrain he marches through. The shore has never felt so alive for this small boy of 5 years. His childhood adrenaline pumping, his hair already sticky with salty air — it’s been too long. It seems like forever since his last day of sand castles and saltwater. He lets go of his father’s hand and sprints towards the crashing waves, halting just before he hits the water. His small body is surrounded by the size of a brilliant form of nature. Aware of the fear that comes with the water, his body tenses as he watches a wave crash ahead of him and waits for the settling water to lick the tips of his tiny toes.

His eyes patiently follow the rising tide to his toes and as it reaches his feet, he begins to laugh and jumps up, splashing the water in every direction. Water splits into tiny droplets as they shine in the sunlight. The boy giggles loudly as he puts his hands on his knees to look down at his feet once more. He’s timid as the sound of the loud waves reaches his ears and the sea foam chases its way up to greet him, cold water sneaking up on his toes — tiny in comparison to the sea outstretching before the boy.

The boy’s father calls to him and he squints into the sun to place where the man is standing.

Tide pools. It’s time.

The tide is low and the tiny creatures of the sea are waiting for the boy to poke them all with his chubby fingers. The boy sprints up to his father, sand sticking to his wet legs, and grasps the warm hand once again.

Sand squishes below their feet and the boy is full of excitement, running on the packet of fruit snacks his father gave him in the car. Everything is bright and new and glorious.

The tide pools are surrounded by tiny people carrying brightly colored buckets, eager to find their next treasure. A keepsake for their time at the sea. The boy lets go as his father yells out to him. He can’t go far.

Safety. Water. Rules.

He makes his way around the rocks and shells and rock shells to the nearest pool of water. He crouches down next to the water to watch the seaweed brush against the side of the natural hole. Carefully watching for a sign of movement, his eye catches a small hermit crab, quickly moving from under the seaweed to the indentation of the rock. He points excitedly at the animal and looks up to find his father. He can’t see him but that’s not something to worry about, not now.

Look at the hermit crab.

Happy shrieks catch the boy’s attention and he gazes over at the commotion. A starfish! Before following after the crowd of bucket-carrying children, the boy looks up to locate his father once again. The sun is bright and the light reflects off the sand, making it difficult to see. His father is no where to be found.

The boy begins to worry but is interrupted by the sound of his fellow adventurers. There are things to see. The boy attempts to stand up but his foot slips into the pool. He panics, thinking that he has stepped on a newfound treasure, frantically looks down and finds the situation okay. He crawls out of the pool and tries to brush off the tiny sand particles from his hands but, instead, more is collected in his palms.

A crowd has emerged around the pink starfish. The boy pardons his way through the taller kids and enthusiastically bends over to look at the creature more closely. His finger reaches out to stroke the seemingly inanimate object and as he does so, a small fish quickly swims to the other side of the tide pool. The boy smiles in that moment and then is overcome with the shouts and excitement of the people around him. He’s lost interest and begins searching for a treasure of his own — one without the crowd.

The boy jumps from rock to rock, looking into the pools of water, hoping to find something he has never seen before. He discovers sea urchins and sea cucumbers, each creature being explored with the touch of the boy’s fingers.

Time begins to pass and people begin to retreat back on to the shore. As he is so engrossed with the ocean, the boy doesn’t seem to notice the changes. He continues further out into the tide pools as the water begins to rise. He wonders where his father went, but he is sure his father is just sitting upon the shore looking out at him. Perhaps he’s eating from the bag of potato chips they brought along for the trip.

He bends down to grab a loose shell drifting back into the sea, but misses it by a second as it is taken in by the receding wave. Disappointed, he follows the shell quickly through the wet sand and finds himself knee deep in the ocean. Reaching down to grab the now stationary shell, he loses his balance and topples head first into the water just as a new wave runs into him.

In a frantic state of confusion, the boy attempts to reorient himself, struggling to find what is seemingly the ground and that which is seemingly up. Just as he pulls himself upwards and pops his head out of the swelling foam and salty water, another wave crashes on his head, pushing him back under. With puffed cheeks and burning eyes, the boy attempts to recall the three swimming lessons his father made him take that one time.

The only thing that seemed to stick in his mind was to not place his chin to chest when attempting to float. This doesn’t help. He attempts to open his eyes but can see nothing but the murky, brown California seawater.

He feels as though he has been under water for some time as the water begins to seep into his mouth and clog up his nose, the taste of the salt water bitter on his tongue. His eyes begin to sting and he feels insignificant and terrified.

He lifts up and by some miracle, his head breaks the surface again. He gasps for air, eyes blending the salt water and salty tears into one constant stream of emotion. He begins to cry and attempts to spit out the lingering taste of salt and sand with no prevail.

He dropped the shell. During his battle with the ocean, he scraped his knee on the rocky ground, but that doesn’t seem to bother him right now. He stands motionless, feet sinking into the sand, creating imprints, his father still no where to be found.
He wipes the tears from his eyes, leaving behind sand on his cheeks. His father has done this in the past. The boy grabs his knee, attempting to stop the pain. It’s not too bad. There is more to explore.

The boy makes his way back to the tide pools to find that the water has taken them over once more. The waves crash on the rocks, sending mist over everything and sprinkling the boy’s head. Another child walks up beside him, swinging a yellow bucket in her hand. They gaze out at the waves and the mist, laughing as it tickles their faces.

The boy’s new friend urges him out into the waves further. She assures him that it’ll be fine, that there are sand dollars waiting to be picked up on the sand bar. The boy, timid as he recollects his earlier experience, follows slowly, once again glancing over to the shore, trying to spot his father. As he looks out at the crowd of people, he catches a glimpse of his father’s head and raises his hand to wave. He’s sleeping in a beach chair with a potato chip bag on his lap as n anxious seagull eyes the bag of chips mysteriously and hops closer to his father’s chair.

The boy turns back to his friend as she waves him closer to the water. She’s already ankle deep and the sun is bouncing off the waves as they grow closer to her. A wave crashes directly in front of her, making her lose her balance for a moment before regaining stability and letting out a slight giggle. She again assures him it’s fine, the water’s fine, there are sand dollars out here.
He follows her. Sand dollars are special, he hasn’t found one all day. In his eyes, the ocean is his friend and exploration is necessary. He continues out further into the shallow water, his swim trunks stilling to his legs — goosebumps appear on his forearms. Small settling waves crash into the shore and as they approach him, he jumps over them, a game that never grows old. He giggles and splashes water at the girl, who is about 8 feet ahead of him.

He continues jumping over waves and battles the forces against him as he steps out to meet her. She’s so close, he’s almost there. The water is up to his waist now and he feels at home. He’s gotten used to the temperature, he can now enjoy the water. The girl is 2 feet from him, sanding on a sand bar, attempting to see through the water to the shells below her. She encourages him to come out just a bit further.

He reaches the sand bar, giving him height in the chest high water. He smiles and looks up at his father’s chair. He’s now awake and fending off the seagull with the bag of chips. The boy yells and waves to him, shaking his arms to catch the attention of his father. The sea is loud, filling the ears of all spectators, there’s no room for a small yell of a child.

A wave crashes behind him unexpectedly and pushes him underwater. He remembers earlier in the day and attempts to do what he did before. He reaches for the sand bar but can’t find sold ground. The solid mound of sand bar isn’t as solid as it seemed and has since disappeared. Where is the girl?

The world is spinning, sky and ground are colliding into one confusing cycle of sea and sand. The boy begins panicking, unsure of what will happen next. He opens his eyes and miraculously sees the ground and a white spherical shape. In his haste, he reaches for the sand dollar, which washes away from the force of his frantic movement. He can’t swim well. Another wave crashes above him and his arms are weak. His head floats to break the surface as he tries to lift it to the sunlight. As he does, he hears the shouts of his friend, yelling for help. The waves overcome her voice. He is spinning but somehow he sees the shore. He thinks he sees his father surrender the bag of chips to the seagull as he sprints towards the water.

Just when the boy thinks it’ll be okay, another wave crashes on his head, pulling him under into the riptide.

His father should be here soon.