As much as climbing trees, I can never resist a chance for a rock climb. Even if this rock were to be several hundred meters from the shore, out in the open sea.
I was about six when I encountered this rock. Old enough to master a four-foot deep pool, but not ready to challenge what seemed like a mile of ocean torrent. We were at the coast of Mass, with friends, as usual.
The sun beat down, but the water was ice. It was all I could do to splash around in the shallows. The whole stretch of ocean was a dark and forbidding blue-black, making you think twice about going onward as soon as you couldn't see the sea bed. But the huge rock in the distance was bathed in the sun's glow and welcoming; as well as cruelly taunting me, knowing that I would never make it across the daring dark channel between us.
I could make out lucky people spreading their towels on the warm surface and sun bathing. Daring teenagers leapt off of high jutting boulders and showed off with twirls and other fancy tricks before hitting the water. God, I yearned to be there. I could see the tempting crevices and platforms I could explore, and the rocky cliffs I could climb. I practically drooled with hunger to be there and not here.
At one point I begged dad to let me ride on his back while he swam me to elephant rock. He shook his head.
"it won't work, kiddo."
Still, I nagged him. And nagged him, and nagged him. The only way to find out it wasn't going to work was to see for myself. Dad was a good swimmer, and a good floater, too. He could make it to a rock some hundred meters away.
So I got on...and he began to sink. Couldn't make the first meter. Some things in life you just have to learn on your own.
Reluctantly I gave up that idea; I had brought a snow sled to the beach in hopes I would be able to surf. But now I had a much more important use for it. I would lie on my belly and paddle to Elephant rock!
I told everyone my brilliant master plan so they wouldn't get worried when they found me missing. I couldn't understand their barely supressed snickers. I had thought up a genious plan!
Stomping back to the water's edge, I plopped the sled into the shallows. It floated all right. I was conscious of puzzled, laughing stares burning into my skin and making me squirm. I refused to meet any eyes. Lying down on my raft, belly pressed against the foam, I pushed against the bank and was propelled into the waves, paddling furiously.
Immediately I began to submerge. The salty liquid filled my mouth, leaving my coughing and sputtering, the back of my throat burning. My sled was starting to sink in slow motion, and I clung to it. Luckly I was only a couple meters from shore; thrusting my feet downward, I hit the rocky sand, and the water closed above my head. But by dragging my raft and hopping in and out of the water, I managed to higher ground until my head was above the waves, then my chest, then my belly, until the tide barely lapped at my knees.
Dragging myself onto the beach, I collapsed, shivering from cold and fright. Mom was by me immediately, presenting me with a dry towel. I grabbed it and huddled in the sand until the sun baked my dry.
I gazed back at Elephant rock, standing proud in the sunshine. I watched in envy the constant flow of people slipping out of the water and climbing onto the sun-warmed ledges after a long swim. I told myself that even if the raft had worked, I wouldn't have been able to go even half way. I'd have been too scared. Who knew what lurked in that dark channel. Sharks? Currents? Even the thought of sea turtles terrified me.
I sighed. There was one rock I would never climb.
Maybe in thirty years I'll be back on that coast, free from child phobias, and with the courage to face the dark waters and step foot on that childhood dream I never had the chance to climb.
Notes: this may not have much to do with Mary's story, but her plot about a forbidden swim to an island brought back this memory of Elephant rock and my never-satisfied yearning to explore it.
image@:Elephant rock beach club