The summer I received my first pair of glasses was the worst summer of my life. I could feel the thick heavy black frames sitting on my face, like a curse, as my dad sped down the freeway in our 1967 Vista Cruiser. I pulled off my glasses and tried to focus without them. I promptly shoved them back on my face, giving up the battle.
Nothing like sticking to hot seats sandwiched between two younger sisters and a little brother. Dad and mom were sitting in front, mom was perfectly poised in the passenger seat thumbing through the Eaton’s catalogue for sewing patterns for our back-to-school clothes in September. She gracefully lit another cigarette and smoothed out her skirt. It wasn’t much of a vacation for mom. She seemed put off from her regular routine of cleaning in the morning, preparing dinner in the afternoon, making herself up and having a drink ready for dad when he got home. She couldn’t seem to settle down the entire drive.
The only thing I looked forward to on this vacation was the prospect of purchasing hockey cards at different gas stations until about South Dakota when hockey is replaced baseball. Both my sisters were reading the latest Archie comics and my brother was complaining to mom, again. The air in the station wagon was thick with smoke and sweat. Every time I tried to open a window my sister would complain that her hair would mess up and mom promptly told me to roll in back up. My brother’s annoying voice pierced the hot air.
“Mom! I want out now!” He screeched, kicking the back of her seat. My sister reached over and maliciously gave him a pinch in the arm.
“Owwwwww!” he cried.
“Charlie stop it! That’s enough!” my mom said flatly. My sister reached around and gave him one more pinch.
“Owwwwww!” Charlie yelped for the second time.
At least this vacation down to Florida allowed me to escape the fight that would’ve ensued before I left. Bobby threatened me on the way home on the last day of school. He didn’t have his cronies around like usual so I turned around and socked him one. For a little guy I pride myself in fighting; no one has taken me down in a one-on-one fight. Bobby’s face was in the dirt as he turned around and looked at me, blood pouring from his nose and tears in his eyes. He started running home and yelled about how I was ‘so dead’ or something like that. I knew I was in for a beating considering most of Bobby’s friends where two years older then me and weighed twice as much. Nothing beats visiting Grandma when you know a bunch of angry kids are waiting to pound you into the ground; maybe they’ll forget before I get home. I still wonder if it’ll hurt my chances at hockey try outs for the Kings this year. Mom made me go on this stupid trip instead of going to hockey camp. I touched my glasses one more time not quite used to the feeling yet.
The polyester shirt my mom bought me for Christmas is itches so bad I wanted to rip it off and torch it. My dad lit his one hundredth cigarette of the day, and finally uttered his first sentence, if you even want to call it that.
“We’re close,” my dad mumbled.
Close to what? A burger joint? The can? A shopping centre? I rolled my eyes at the thought or another motel or rest stop with a giant bunny statue or the world’s largest hot dog.
No, it was the beach. The giant sprawl of sand came up into view and with it the bright blue water. My dad slowly pulled over to the side of the freeway and we all shifted over to the windows. I can almost swear the entire vehicle tilted to one side. My dad pulled our station wagon over to the shoulder of the road as slow as humanly possible. With the crackle of gravel the car finally came to a stop.
I grabbed at the door handle in desperation and finally threw it open and ran towards the sign that read Milton Beach. I kicked the sand up behind me as I raced towards the water with my brother and sisters trailing behind. I whipped off my shoes as fast as I could with the rest of my siblings doing the same. We all ran into the water fully clothed breathing a sigh of relief. My brother was the last to get in because he was five years younger and verging on the same weight as me; he took one look at me and smiled. What was that in his hand? A rock? No that was my shoe. That little bugger. He’s so dead. I waded over just as he tossed it in the water with a grin. It was on. I tossed him over and he had no chance, he was down for the count. I wrestled him a little bit more letting him get in a few hits here and there, but like I said I was quite a scrapper and he was much younger. I got him under water and held him there just in time to let him back up for some air and push him under again. To make sure he stayed down I could see a beach ball out of the corner of my eye. Perfect, I thought. I’ll just reach around and smack him so hard he’ll....
My body goes limp, I feel the blood rush to my head and my lungs fill with water as I collapse on top of my little brother. I can feel my weight crumpling on top of him. I reach out to grab him, but he’s gone. Panic sets in. Franticly I grab for him, thrashing my arms back in forth searching. Nothing. A sharp pain sears through my arm. I can’t breathe. Strong arms wrap around my body and pull my hard to the surface.
Dad. I see him. The back of the station wagon is dark. My mom hands me me sweater to bite on. The pain is intense and radiating up and down my arm. I roll over. The bright florescent lights on the hospital ceiling are blinding as I rock back and forth from side to side.
“Son, you’re going to have to stop moving because I have to roll you over and put this needle in your left buttock cheek. It will help stop the pain,” a doctor says. Whatever. I don’t care just make it stop.
“You’re lucky. A boy last week fell into a tide pool of Man-o-war by the beach,” the doctor says matter of factly.
“Holy shit,” I say out loud. The pain is still bad, but I frantically look around the room for my mother. The last thing I wanted right now was to get the strap from mom.
“You know next time you reach for a beach ball make sure it’s actually a beach ball, loser,” my sister says at the beach the next day. The only way the pain will stop is when I hold my hand over my head and shake it violently back and forth.
“You look like such a retard,” my sister continues.
“Shut up,” I say as I bring my hand back down and examine it. There are streaks of red and blisters all the way up my forearm. Man-o-war are a special breed of jellyfish that attract their prey by blowing up like a beach balls with radiant colours that reflect the sun. The tentacles wrapped all the way up my forearm before I passed out in the water.
“Hey you look like a retard,” mimics my brother as he runs by me towards the water.