In the aptly named Awesome Anthology, Matt Kindt's contribution included several stories from The Misery Index--stories that friends had told him of truly miserable times in their lives. The tales range in emotion from the truly tragic, to the painfully regretful, to the oddly comical. This is my story of Misery.
During my childhood, my dad (my stepfather, but still my dad) had weekend visitations with Brian, his son from a previous marriage. Because I usually had my dad all to myself, when those weekends came around, I felt a little jealousy toward my older stepbrother for taking some of my dad's attention away. One day, this envy nearly cost me my life.
Brian had come down to South Jersey in the middle of the summer for a weekend visit. Being the dog days of August, the whole family decided to hit the beach. Though the sun shone brightly and temperatures soared, a brisk wind blew across the shore. As my mom set up camp and my dad removed his tee shirt and put his glasses back on, I checked the water, refreshingly cool as always. My dad and Brian started wading into the waves while my mom applied some sunscreen.
"Be careful," she cautioned. Naturally, I listened.
I crashed into the ocean, letting the waves break over me as I ran deeper into the water. I always loved the feeling of waves crashing all around me, whether while bodysurfing or just standing in the sea. That day, thanks to the wind and the tide, the waves rose larger than usual. By the time I had caught up with the boys, they had passed the shore break, and had reached the point where I could stand safely between waves, but each peak of an incoming swell lifted me too high to keep a footing. In my youth, I found it hard to put my head below water without holding my nose, limiting my swimming repertoire to treading or dog paddling, neither of which kept me from being slowly swept out to sea by the strong undertow created by the large waves.
Dad and Brian seemed to be having a fine time as I struggled not only with my feeble swimming, but also with trying not to let them know I was literally in over my head. I didn't want to be seen as the baby, as something less than Brian. Soon a whistle began to blow, rather urgently. The perceptive lifeguards noticed me having a spot of difficulty and waved us all inward. My dad pulled my arms around his neck and draped me, exhausted, over his back.
"We better move in a little, huh, son?" he asked with that calm, joking, reassuring tone. Then he turned toward the shore. Away from the waves. The larger than normal waves.
Almost immediately, a huge swell hit us from behind. Though I enjoyed it, I wasn't the one wearing glasses. The wave washed my dad's glasses clean off of his face. Knowing how much a good pair of glasses costs, my dad panicked and did what came naturally. He dove under the water, with me still attached to his back and my arms still in his hand. Having neither skills at submerging nor any warning, the move caught me totally by surprise, and I inhaled a deep breath of water.
We burst upward again, my dad still without his glasses. I began coughing and spewing water all over the place. By this point, the lifeguards had seen enough, and brought a rowboat out to take me to shore. A lifeguard grabbed me and started to take me from my father to the safety of the boat. However, without his glasses, all my father saw was a strange man trying to take his son. So dad socked him.
Fortunately for the lifeguard, my dad's aim matched his vision, so dad only hit him in the arm. Then he saw the rowboat and realized what was happening. He let them row me in as he and my stepbrother swam back in themselves. After a little more coughing, I enjoyed the ride into shore.
As we neared the beach, I could see my mother standing thigh-deep in the ocean, unsure if she should be rushing in to save me, her shorts and shirt tail soaked. Many a time have I seen the look of misery on my mother's face, usually caused by one of the males in our household. This look had to be in the all-time top ten. Adding to her outrage, a woman not far behind her had been watching the whole incident, laughing hysterically. Mom thanked the lifeguards for rescuing me, and turning back to our stretch of beach, scowled at the other woman, who had by then wet herself from laughing.
Soon after this incident, we moved into a new house--with a pool.