By 8:00 on Sunday morning, our whole family was in the car wearing bathing suits and flip flops. J and I had packed up the beach chairs, the sunblock, the hats, and our pathetic collection of sand toys the night before and had filled water bottles that morning. Since I had pulled my hamstring running on Tuesday and then repulled it running on Thursday, I thought maybe I’d forgo my Sunday morning seven miles, so we were out the door as soon as everyone had wolfed down breakfast and brushed their teeth.
We had tried Crane’s beach the week before, because everyone says it’s the best. If by “the best” you mean white sand, $25 parking, and people squished so close on either side you could ask for Grey Poupon on one side and bread on the other, then, yes, Crane’s qualifies. Personally, I prefer my beaches with a healthy dose of No One Else. So, we programmed our GPS for the town where I went to junior high and high school.
Zachary sat in the back, reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid and growling at us if we tried to play music. If I tried to speak, Benjamin growled too, enforcing the silence on his brother’s behalf. Ten minutes in, he finished the book, and we turned on music.
“Can I have this song on repeat?” Ben asked, so we listened to the acoustic version of “Layla” for the next 28 minutes. That’s how we roll.
Is it strange for me, going to a town where I lived two decades ago, a town where my estranged sister and aunt live? A bit. But only a bit. It’s weird to see that the playground the town built is not there (why?) but Cindy’s Superette has somehow made it all these years (also, why?). Strange to know my way around, but then not to. I didn’t go to the beach much as a teen, despite living in a beach town. My aunt was sort of anti-nature, and so it wasn’t really on my radar.
“I’ll drop you and park the car,” I told J. “You’ll never find the path to the beach.” I do know where the path is, although now there’s a giant movie set creating a bit of a detour.
By 8:45, we were settled in beach chairs, reading, as our kids ran about the empty beach collecting stones, sea glass, and shells.
“I found a sand dollar!”
“Help me get this rock out!”
“Mama, see this sea glass?”
There’s something to be said for a beach that’s not all sand. For the first hour, we shared the beach with a few septuagenarians. A lone Porta-Potty perched high up on the sea wall.
“Daddy, I’m going to look for a hermit crab. If I find a hermit crab, can I bring it home and make it a pet?”
“Yes. Benjamin, if you find a hermit crab, you can have it for a pet.” He’ll never find a hermit crab.
Two hours in, friends came to meet us. Here and there, the beach was dotted with families. My sons and I wandered down to the tidal pools with our friends. I’m not sure who found the hermit crab, but there was Ben, running down the beach with it in his hand, looking for a bucket to bring it home in.
That’s how I ended up at Petco on Sunday evening, getting a little tank to keep our pet in. I even bought extra sea water, because if you take an animal out of its environment, you’re responsible for trying your best to keep it alive.
Cue the music.
Not so good at keeping it alive.
Benjamin loved his new pet, lavished it with attention, which means he sat there staring at it as it crawled around the tank, exploring the shells he’d put in. “I think the clam is alive!” he shouted.
By the next morning, both Crabby and Clammy were clearly dead. “They might just be sleeping,” I offered as I took the boys to their first day of a new camp. A little white lie for the first day of camp.
But when I picked them up at 4:00, I had to tell the truth. “I think Crabby is dead, Ben.”
“No, I think he’s just really tired,” came the reply from the back seat. Now, keep in mind, this is a camp for gifted kids. You have to pass some stringent requirements to get in. My kid is no dummy. But the power of denial is strong in that one.
And that’s how 4:35 found us, sitting on the steps in our house, him sobbing and me holding him, telling the piano teacher, “Maybe Zach ought to have the first lesson today.”
I fished out Crabby and Clammy while Ben went through his large collection of stones, looking for an appropriate headstone. We went to the backyard to have a proper funeral. I picked up the shovel, pushed it in with my foot. And that’s how I pulled my hamstring for the third time, conducting a funeral for a hermit crab.
We went back inside, my boy and me. He pushes me away so much, such Big Boy Bravado. But yesterday, he needed me as he mourned this pet that, beyond all reason, he loved.
“I know how much you loved him,” I said.
“I should have left him in the tidal pool,” he replied softly.