Waist Deep

There’s no greater frustration, it seems, than being the sole proprietor of the truth while everyone else denies it. To some, the truth might seem subjective, but when you’re in possession of it, in search of it, or left wanting for it, it’s as tangible and solid an object as a gold nugget that can be found in a Colorado stream bed.

When I was 8 and my best friend, David, was 7, our mothers took us to the Jersey shore. I’m sure it was a beautiful day and I’m sure we ate hot dogs from the stand and built something in the sand, but the only thing I really remember from that day, long ago, was the thing that David and I saw swimming in the ocean among all the people who played there. We were in waist-deep water at low tide. Our mothers were further out by the rope that marks the barrier you’re not supposed to swim beyond. We were playing Super Friends as we nearly always did on the infrequent occasions we saw one another. I was usually Spider Man or The Hulk or Batman, depending on where we were or what gadgets I had to play with. But on this day we were at the beach, of course, I was Aqua Man. For some reason, regardless of circumstances, Dave was always Wonder Woman. (Nope, he grew up straight. But I teased him about this well into adulthood.) So David and I were standing a couple yards apart in about 3-foot-deep water – me calling whales with my sonar while David (I mean Wonder Woman) deflected imaginary bullets with her – his – golden bracelets. At some point we turned to face each other. Something caught our attention and we looked down to see an animal swim between us. It was well underwater, nearly skimming the bottom. It was diamond-shaped, about 3 feet wide and a long, slender tail trailed behind it. It looked like a kite; it could have been the shadow of a kite but there was no kite in the sky and it wasn’t shadow-colored, besides. It was brownish grey and there was no mistaking that it was beneath the surface of the water.

I screamed, “Shark!” and Dave and I ran ashore. Having achieved the beach in a matter of seconds wasn’t enough. Dave and I kept going until we hit dry sand. We waved our hands above our heads at our mothers, yelling that there was a shark and that everyone needed to get out of the water. At one point, I turned to the life guard who was up on his high chair about a hundred feet away. Bored, he turned to stare at me and then, apparently unimpressed, he simply turned back to his daydream, staring out to sea. We were flabbergasted that everyone refused to take us seriously. Our mothers just waved us off, instead just standing out there by the rope gossiping about people or what ever boring and unimportant thing mothers talk about. After a little more insistence, and adding jumping up and down to our performance, our mothers waded back to the beach to see what the matter was. Irritated.

We told our mothers what we had seen. They didn’t believe us. We told them again. They didn’t believe us. We ate lunch and told them again. They didn’t believe us. When Dave and I refused to go back in the water, they got pissed off and took us home. On the car ride back to Staten Island, we recounted our story. They didn’t believe us.

That night, when my father got home, my mother told him about how Dave and I ruined their beautiful day at the beach and made me tell him what I thought I saw. My father, at least, was interested. When I was done, my father seemed to believe that I, at least, saw something.

“I guess it’s possible.” he said to my mother.

Finally, someone believed me. He didn’t think I was crazy and didn’t think I was making it all up. I was satisfied.

My mother wasn’t, “There’s no way. It would have had to have gone right past me and Maryanne, and we didn’t see anything. You’re just encouraging him.” She was frustrated that he didn’t take her side, “Jim, just stop it and go in your room.”

As an adult, looking back, I know what Dave and I saw was, in fact, a stingray. What a stingray was doing on the Jersey shore that day, I’ll never know.

The battle for, over, and on behalf of the truth, would become the thread from which all other important events in my life are sewn. Trying to convince old men that a young person could, in fact, know something that they don’t. Trying to convince my mother to see my point of view. Trying to convince my father he was wrong about anything. Trying to convince (now-ex) girlfriends to tell me the truth about the “other” boyfriend. Trying to convince people not to vote against their own interests. Trying to convince people that Republicans are lying, what Fox News really is, and all about government and corporate propaganda. It frustrates me even now more than ever.

But it all began on that summer day in Jersey where the land meets the sea, when I came so close to a beast from the deep that I nearly stepped on him, and I learned that the struggle for truth isn’t so easy.


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