Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Falling Through the Bulkhead

On the tip of Cape Cod where my family used to vacation, wooden bulkheads separated and protected beachfront homes from the high tides of Cape Cod Bay. The bulkheads, which ran the entire length of the beach, were made from ten-foot tall, evenly-spaced wooden pylons layered with wooden slats. The slats were a few feet apart, like the rungs of a ladder laid flat. You could walk across the slats while stepping over the gaps, and look down to the sand (or water) below, depending on whether the tide was in or out. The bulkhead wasn't dangerous enough to avoid walking across, but if you weren't careful, you could fall through.

Starting from about nine or ten years old, I was pretty boy crazy. I had a million puppy-love crushes. There was a sinewy nineteen-year old lifeguard named Randy who worked at the pool in the Bronx where my mom swam laps. He was friends with my babysitter and I used to follow him around in what I can only imagine was a most annoying fashion. There was a chubby boy named Niles on Cape Cod, about five years older than me, whose mom had died of cancer, I think. He could ride a bicycle through the streets of Provincetown with no hands and fly a kite without any help from a grown-up. I was totally in love with him and he tolerated my admiration with a puzzled amusement.

One day at low tide, I was making my usual trek across the bulkhead to my friend's house several houses further up the beach from where my family stayed. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a couple of cute boys tossing a football around. I turned my head, and in that instant, I lost my footing and fell through one of the gaps to the sand below. In addition to looking stupid in front of these kids, I got the wind knocked out of me and had to sit there awhile composing myself. My dad, who must have seen me fall, came rushing over to see if I was OK. Physically, I was fine. But I was scared and embarrassed and too proud to cry.

This relatively uneventful fall through the bulkhead remains one of my most vivid and enduring childhood memories. When I ask myself why, I think it's because it represents something I continue to experience. Not literally, of course. But on several occasions, I have walked across some figurative bulkhead, turned my head for a second, and in a moment of distraction and preoccupation, fallen through the proverbial slats. When this happens I feel pain and humiliation. It sucks. No one rushes over to see if I'm OK, because most of the time, no one saw me fall. And even if someone had, they couldn't help me anyway. I just have to sit there awhile, hoping I can stand up and walk out through the pylons to the beach before the tide comes back in.

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