Swimming Parallel

I was a skinny kid, lacking the strength and stamina to play sports, and a sufferer of migraine headaches. I had few friends and no girlfriends.

It didn’t take much strength or talent to body surf, so that was my sport in the 60s on Santa Monica beach.

I enjoyed going into the ocean when the lifeguard station flew a solid red flag signaling the riptide. A riptide is a strong flow of water from near the shore out into the ocean. You are swiftly carried into deep water. The natural tendency is to fight the pull and swim towards the shore. The strongest swimmer either drowns or is saved.

Swimming parallel to and edging toward the shore, I would catch waves and ride them further inland until the water was shallow enough that I could walk from sea to shore. It didn’t take strength to be free of a riptide. You had to swim and stay calm.

After high school and on weekends I worked part-time at Henshey’s department store. One day several co-workers around high school age met at the beach.

The solid red flag was waving. It was understood that no one would be swimming today. Bridget Beaulaire, tall and lean with long flowing reddish bronze hair, urged the other girls to feel Len Harding’s biceps and abdominals. “Feel them!” she delighted. He wore the attention of women as comfortably as the sand between his toes. “Lenny, show your Mr. Universe pose.”

I said, “I’m going in.”

“Len, you should go too.” He didn’t want to. “You’ll be okay,” Bridget commanded.

The two of us walked to the water silently. Len looked back at least twice. We dove in and were carried swiftly into deep water. I started to swim north, parallel to the beach, riding waves at my leisure, enjoying the ocean. Len swam directly for shore. Waving his arms, he went under a couple times. I was too far from him. The richly tanned lifeguard in flag-matching bathing trunks dashed down the ramp of his tower.

A couple hundred yards away my co-workers gathered near the water. I jogged. Len lay on his back not far from where the water’s final foam reached. Bridget was kneeling at his side while the lifeguard and the others from work stood over him.

I watched him for awhile until there was no point any longer and headed into the water. Floating on my back, my co-workers quickly became small human figures on the sand. A wave came and I caught it. I came out of the wave and tried to swim straight for the shore. Exhaustion threatened to extinguish me. I cut to the left, north, and began to swim parallel. Waves guided me in. Shore to sea. Sea to shore.

I started a slow walk parallel to back home.

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