“Good Morning!” Yelled Mom and Dad. “Time to get up!” Alex opened his eyes slowly and looked up at his mom and dad standing by his bed holding a breakfast muffin with one lit candle. He looked around the room and found it to be full of balloons and streamers. It’s not my birthday, he thought. By the look on his parents face, he knew that today was a day of celebration. “What’s going on?” He asked. “Who’s birthday is it?” His parents chuckled softly and in unison said with glee, “It’s our gotcha day! Today marks one whole year since we became a family.” Alex was so excited. Was this going to be like having two birthdays in one year? Was he going to get presents? His parents had him blow out the candle and told him to get ready for the day. “We can do anything you want today, it’s your special day”, said mom. He jumped up to get dressed as quickly as he could, already imagining what kind of day he would have at the beach. He has always dreamed about playing in the sand and jumping in the waves. Finally his parents were letting him pick what he wanted to do! He nearly tripped as he ran down the stairs on his way to the kitchen. His dad had prepared his favorite breakfast, pancakes loaded with syrup. “Have you thought about what you want to do today?” He asked as he sat Alex’s plate down on the table. “I want to go to the beach!” He shouted with joy, grinning from ear to ear and unable to sit still. Immediately, his father’s demeanor changed.
Sarah’s face turned from joy to sadness as she turned to look at her husband. She knew the one place that her husband would never go was the beach. He had a terrifying experience as a young boy that he still refuses to talk about. Sam shook off his initial shock of hearing his son’s plan. “How about we go to the park or to the zoo instead? The beach is over two hours away and that will take away from our day”, he urged.
“But dad! I’ve wanted to go to the beach my WHOLE life!” Alex pleaded.
“I’m sorry son, I just— I mean WE just cannot go to the beach.” Dad was starting to get visibly upset.
“No ‘buts’ son. Now I am sorry, but we are not going to the beach and that’s final!”
Alex looked towards his mom in a frantic plea for help not knowing what to do. In the year since they had adopted him, he had never seen his dad so upset!
“The zoo sounds nice, Alex. Go brush your teeth and put your shoes on. I’ll pack the cooler.” Sarah said calmly. She gently put her arm around Sam and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
Their day at the zoo was an exciting day. Alex saw animals that he had never seen before! His favorite animal he saw was the monkey! He liked watching them swing through the trees. However, he couldn’t get the beach out of his head. He yearned to build a sandcastle, swim through the water and chase the incoming and outgoing waves. He was confused as to why his dad was so against going to the beach. What could be wrong with the beach? It seemed like it was the best place on earth! No matter what, he enjoyed his day at the zoo with his family.
Over the next few weeks, Alex could not get the beach out of his head. He dreamed about it almost every night. Any free moment he had was spent filling his room with pictures and drawings. He repeatedly pleaded with his mom to help him convince his dad to take them. Each time she replied the same. “We can do other things as a family just not the beach.” Then, Alex received what he thought was good news. His dad was going on a weekend business trip! At the first opportunity, he found his mom alone and asked if they could go to the beach together when Dad was gone. Sarah was surprised to hear the plan that her son had hatched up. “Let’s talk about it later” she replied and Alex skipped off happily.
Later that night, as she and Sam were getting ready for bed, she gingerly brought up Alex’s idea and waited for her husband’s reaction. Sam froze for a moment staring down at his feet. He then quietly but firmly replied, “There are so many things that you both can do together that do not involve the beach. I really do not want you to take Alex there.”
“Come on, Sam. What harm would it do? You won’t even be there”.
“I am not comfortable with it. I said no. Go anywhere else but the beach.”
“Sarah! Please can we stop talking about this? I already told you how I felt and that’s final.”
Fast forward to the weekend of Sam’s business trip. Alex was sad when his dad got into the taxi and drove away, knowing he would not see him for three whole days. As soon as the taxi turned the corner, Sarah looked at Alex and said, “I have a surprise for you, we are taking a small trip too.” Alex was so excited as he hopped in the car and saw their packed bags already there waiting for them.
“Mom, where are we going?” Alex asked excitedly.
“It’s a surprise, you will see when we get there.”
Alex could not contain his excitement! They had never taken a surprise adventure like this before. Over the next two hours, he kept his eyes peeled to the window soaking in every little thing he saw. Where are we going? He kept thinking to himself. Are we there yet? When will we get there? It that building it? No? How much further? His mind was moving a mile a minute.
As Alex looked out of the front window of the car, his eyes widened and his jaw dropped. Was this a dream? He pinched his own arm. “Ow!” No, not a dream. Alex was speechless. “What do you think?” asked mom gleefully. “I think... I think... It’s the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.” After they were all checked into their hotel, Sarah took Alex’s hand to lead him down to the shore. The sand felt warm under his feet and the water felt cool lapping against his toes. Alex could not believe they were actually at the beach and excitedly began to tell his mom everything he wanted to do over the next two days. The top two things on his list were to build a sandcastle and to run into the waves. As they were returning to the hotel for the night, Alex picked up his very first seashell. As he ran his fingers over the grooves in the shell, he could only imagine what tomorrow would bring.
The next morning, after breakfast, Sarah had reserved two chairs down by the shore and surprised Alex with buckets and shovels. Immediately, he began to build his very first sandcastle! Sarah took pictures of everything hoping to be able to show them all to Sam when they get home. She was sure he would understand as soon as he saw how happy his son was. The next two days were spent playing in the waves and building sandcastles. He was starstruck every time a wave crashed onto the shore. He still could not believe it was real.
Sadly, the time came to pack up the car to head home. As they loaded up the last bag, Alex begged Sarah to go play in the water one last time.
“Just five minutes, mom! I promise. Please!” He pleaded.
Sarah sighed as she looked at her watch. “Okay fine, five minutes and then we have to get on the road.”
As they walk down to the shore and Alex runs into the water, Sarah’s phone rings. It’s Sam just calling to check in. After they talk for a few minutes, Sam reluctantly asks “Where are you? What is all that noise?” There was a sudden commotion behind her. As she turned around, she realized it was Alex struggling to hold himself above water. The lifeguard yelled “He is caught in the current, call 911!” as he dove headfirst into the waves. Sarah immediately dropped her phone in the sand and ran towards the water. After what seemed like an eternity, the lifeguard finally reached Alex and starting swimming back to shore. He carried his limp body and laid him on the sand where he quickly began chest compressions as he felt no pulse. Sarah stood next to her son in shock, feeling more helpless than she ever had in her life. Finally, like music to her ears, Alex started coughing up water. She was so overwhelmed with emotions as she took her son in her arms as the ambulance arrived.
Soon after, they arrived at the hospital. Although the doctors believe that Alex is fine, they want to keep him overnight for observation based on how long he had lost consciousness. Sarah immediately called Sam from the hospital phone to let him know what happened. To her surprise, he was already on his way home. She told him where they were and he immediately changed course so he could be there before Alex was discharged in the morning. Sarah sat at Alex’s bed through the night, feeling overcome with guilt. She had hoped that Sam would see the joy the beach brought his son and want to experience it as a family on the next trip. At some point she must have fallen asleep with her head on the foot of Alex’s bed. When she woke up, Sam was standing in the doorway with tears streaming down his face. Sarah immediately jumped up and ran into her husband’s arms. She quickly assures him that the doctor said Alex was going to be fine. Sam takes her hands, looks in her eyes and begins to tell her the story of his family’s summer beach vacations when he was a boy.
The summer he turned 12, he was swimming in the water just like he did every other morning. He began to notice a slight shift in the water and was quickly pulled under and caught in the riptide. The harder he tried to swim to shore, it just kept pulling him under and further out. That was the last thing Sam remembered until he woke up in the hospital 10 days later. Ever since, he had a severe aversion to water to the point he could not even take a bath.
Sarah buried her tear streaked face in his chest and begged for her husbands forgiveness through her sobs. She knew he had had a traumatic experience but did not realize the extent of it.
“Will you ever forgive me?” Pleaded Sarah.
Sam kissed her gently on the forehead. “Of course I forgive you. I am sorry I never told you before. My goal has always been to protect you and Alex.”
Just then, they both heard Alex stirring in the bed. “Dad! Dad! You’re here! You won’t believe the weekend I had, I saw the beach!” Almost completely unfazed by any of the events that had just occurred, he began to share every single detail from how many sandcastles he built to how many waves he had jumped over.
Realizing that his son was not the least bit traumatized, Sam hugged him and said “that’s awesome, buddy. Tell me more.”