Last Saturday afternoon the streets of Brooklyn sweltered in the sultry August heat and my landlord invited me to join a family excursion to the beach. I had only swam in the ocean twice all summer, so my answer was quick and to the point.
"Gimme five minutes."
I ran upstairs and changed into my beach gear, then grabbed a towel. We weren't going far and I hurried down to the street in time to help AP load his kids' bikes into AP's Audi A6 station wagon.
"Nice day for it." The temperature was in the mid-90s.
"Any day is." I sat in the back with the door open. The afternoon air was breathless and I toweled the sweat off my face. His daughter and son bounded down the stairs and joined me in the back. Lizzie and my daughter Angie were born only a few days apart, while James was two years older than Wey Wey. I considered both AP's children family. Mine was on the other side of the world in Thailand.
"Everyone set?" their platinum-haired mother, Kay, asked from the front.
"Ready," we chorused and AP drove through downtown Brooklyn to the Dumbo exit of the south-bound BQE. Traffic was nearly non-existent along the shore of New York harbor and we round the Narrows past Coney Island. AP got off the BQE at 11S to cross over Jamaica Bay Inlet on the Gil Hodges Bridge after which AP entered Fort Tilden, to which he had a parking permit from the Rockaway Artists Collective.
After pulling out the bikes, the two kids rode ahead on the crumbling roads of the decommissioned military outpost, while we tramped toward the beach.
Fort Tilden had served the nation since the War of 1812 and existed as Naval Air Station Rockaway throughout the 20th Century. Coastal guns had at one time dotted the dunes to protect New York City from invasion. During the Cold War Nike Hercules and Nike Ajax missiles had been installed in bunkers and launch sites to shoot down Soviet nuclear missile.
AP's eight-year old son was desperate to find a silo in the flowering beach heather.
"Why don't they not have missiles now?"
"The fort was abandoned in the 70s."
"Why?" It was only the second of many whys and AP was a good father. He answered each and every one through the dunes.
We reached the beach, as the crowds were heading for home. The wind off the water was cold. The beach was strewn with plastic bags and beer cans. AP's son asked why.
"Because people are pigs," AP answered and stripped off his shirt. He had summered most of his life on the Hamptons. This was his ocean. His daughter and son waded in ankle-deep surf, as he plunged into the thick ocean rollers. I wasn't quite ready and policed the sandy stretch around us for trash. After five minutes it was almost pristine and I dropped the bag of garbage by Kay reading a book.
"A little better now."
"Wasn't any plastic on the beach when I was growing up."
AK's wife came from San Diego. I knew those beaches from the 70s.
"You think the Atlantic is different from the Pacific?"
Both are cold." She put down her book and surveyed the green waves. "The surf is bigger back home and the slope doesn't drop off so fast like it does here, but it's almost the same. What about Thailand?"
"The water there is calm and warm." I shut my eyes and saw Angie and Wey Wey on Mae Laim Phim. My kids loved Rayong. The sand was soft and the water was warm, plus palm trees lined the beach. Nothing was getting me there today and I opened them to see Lizzie and James before me.
"Are you going in?"
"No, I just sit here. I'll watch your garbage."
Kay resume reading her book.
I tugged off my shirt and walked to the edge of the surf. AP stroked through the surf and shook the water off his body.
"You kids ready for a swim?" AP was a good swimmer and a better father.
Lizzie disappeared under a wave. Her younger brother was more cautious.
"I'll carry you." AK lifted James in his arms and wandered into the deeper water. I missed my sons. My daughters too.
"Don't mention it." I was also a father.
I ran into the ocean. I duckdove under a large wave and Aussie-crawled about a hundred feet from shore. The current swept east at a fast clip and I swam to keep AP and his daughter before me. James shouted and pointed behind me. A surging wave built a sloping face. I rode it for a good twenty feet before the wave collapsed onto the sandbar, slamming my body to the sand and I popped to the surface gasping for breath.
An unusual pain throbbed in the ribs.
Lord Neptune had tried to kill me, but I wasn't an easy victim and bodysurfed to shallower water. Standing up I inhaled deeply. The ache wasn't going away and I decided it was time to call an end to this swimming expedition.
"You okay?" AP asked emerging from the surf with his daughter and son clinging to his neck.
"I might have bruised a rib, but I'm okay."
His kids ran to their mother.
It was three months since my last visit home.
Sea water was good at hiding my tears and I said, "Nothing a few margaritas wouldn't cure."
"Your wish is my command." AP is a kindred soul. "Let's go get some in Rockaway. Tacos too."
His wife liked the idea.
"That was quite a tumble you took."
"It only hurts when I laugh."
"I bet it does, but it will go away." Kay understood the ache in my heart, but her children were happy and I was happy for them to be happy and ever happier that we had gone to Fort Tilden. I inhaled deeply and grimaced from the pain.
It wasn't bad and I follow my friends to the car.
They were a family and so was mine.
And one day soon I will go see my kids.
On the sands of a beach far away.
And that will happen one day.