Back To The Sea

“It is an interesting biological fact that all of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean.
And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch it, we are going back from whence we came.”

~John F. Kennedy

We moved the folding lawn chairs, back another 5 feet as we had done all day. I got mine settled in a groove I made in the sand. Kenny was drunk by now and his chair tipped over as he plopped down hard in it. Wet sand covered the right side of his face.

“Fuck”. Was all he said as he wiped the sand from his face, while lifting the bottle of Jim Beam to his lips pursing for another draw on the bottle. Funny now, it occurs to me he didn’t spill a drop.

We had spent the entire day in the sun. We drove out on the beach in his 4 wheel drive truck early that morning. Passing the Lighthouse at Corolla and following the road to the tip of Duck. It was there you could drive out on the beach right up to the surf. We were on the beach at sunrise, which coincided with low tide. The hot Carolina sun and the smell of the sea was a welcome awakening of the senses. And to that point, a good visit with an old acquaintance in Kenny.

He was a native of the Outer banks, coming from a family of fisherman. His old man had run his own charter boat for years; it was how I had come to meet them. Our visits had been more frequent when I lived closer. Now I made my way back when I could. Lee, Kenny’s father had passed one year prior to my last visit. I felt badly that I had not seen him before, and vowed to keep better tabs on Kenny.

Lee was a classic fisherman; he knew the waters around the outer banks like the back of his hand. And as I recalled, we never came back without fish. Something few other charter captains could claim. He was a proud, independent and strong man. Lee had a great sense of humor, Kenny being living proof. He was the only child of Lee and his deceased wife. And some around these parts would claim, not such a bright child. But Lee had made certain Kenny were raised to be respectful, hardworking and kind. He had also passed along his skill as a fisherman and subsequently the boat and charter business.

Like the rest of the country I suppose, the outer banks had been hit hard by the recession. Tourism and revenues were down substantially.
Kenny shared this much with me as we sat surf fishing, using the back of his old pickup as home base instead of the boat. As the day went on, so did the alcohol intake.  We moved our chairs back as the tide came in. Sitting with our feet in the surf and soaking up the sun.
We were interrupted only by the occasional bluefish on one of the lines. Or one of the wild herds of horses that still roam this area of beach. We stopped and marveled at their beauty and freedom. The locals had fought to protect the herds and their freedoms, nearly as hard as they did their own.

As the day progressed familiarity between us came back and
the liquor flowed. Kenny began to open up. As I suspected he missed Lee terribly, as did all who knew him. The economy and his fortunes were both in the toilet. I listened intently as he told me that earlier that month, he had lost the boat.

Between filling one cooler with bluefish, and emptying another of beer, Kenny shared his pain. Off the coast before us, Jet Ski’s came perilously close to our lines. Kenny uncharacteristically cussed.

“Fucking bank.” He muttered. mixed between “Fucking tourists.” He was cursing all he had once derived his living from. As I listened, I found it hard to blame him. Looking back I wonder how I could have offered more help and encouragement.

As dusk came, Kenny cleaned a large bluefish, I built a fire, and we cooked our dinner on closed grills over the fire, ten feet from the surf. It brought back memories of Lee and happier times for us both.

“You know Kenny; you could always become a chef.” I said as he brought out the Jim Beam and began to drink from the bottle.

“That’s the problem; I don’t know who I am anymore.” Kenny said. He pointed to a small herd of horses grazing in the sunset on the sea oats and sea grasses nearby. “I would be as lost as they would, if you corralled them Kevin.”

I saw tears well up in his eyes.Trying to diffuse an awkward situation, I pointed to the tide, the surf now reaching the bottom of our chairs; my shorts were wet from the last wave that rolled to shore. “ we better load up Kenny.” I grabbed the cooler with the fish and carried it to the truck.

“You get the coolers and chairs;I will bring the lines in.” Kenny said as he walked in near darkness toward the shoreline.

I loaded the coolers and chairs. Kenny never returned with the lines. I turned on the headlights of the truck, they illuminated the shoreline. I saw no sign of Kenny. Only the now empty bottle of Jim Beam stuck in the sand.

Both poles were still affixed to the holders on the front bumper of the truck. I called frantically for quite a while. After nearly an hour, I realized Kenny Roberts was never coming back.

Sometimes at night I wake and scream out for him. Sometimes I see the images of the Mustangs in the dreams. They tell me depression and the currents; have taken nineteen year old Kenny back to the sea.
Now I am haunted by the question, with all the signs, why didn’t I see?

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~ by onthedarkside on June 30, 2011.

One Response to “Back To The Sea”

  1. How do you do it? You draw me in everytime. Hook, line and sinker…

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