By Nancy J. Stremmel
The waves were steadily building from the most eastern edge of Long Island Sound, to the western reaches near red nun #15. The Nor'easter was blowing 15 to 20 knots. Waves that were only six inches a half hour ago were now up to three feet. A ten year old boy had managed to wrap his belt around a buoy and was clinging onto it with all his strength.
He could barely hear himself and was sure that his calls could not be heard above the roar of the storm. The wind in the trees screamed and the halyards beat against the aluminum masts in the nearby harbor, a relentless, offkey xylaphone, while the waves whipped into a frothy soup crashed against the boulders of the breakwater. It was mid-May and the water was still cold as is swirled around him. He could no longer feel his feet, which was probably a good thing because the barnacles on the anchor chain had cut through his sneakers and cut into his feet. If the water was calm, he would be able to see the swirls of blood.
He had tried to swim for shore when he slipped off the breakwater, and fairly quickly was exhausted. He didn't know then that when current was bent by a breakwater, it swirled away from the impediment. The waves were too big. The current was too strong. When he was swimming, he couldn't see what direction to go in except when he was at the top of the wave. He had managed to swim to this buoy, a red nun and to hold on long enough to get his belt off and looped through the handle. At first he felt safe. This nun wasn't going anywhere and he could easily hold onto his belt until someone came by in a boat. For a while, he tried to climb up on it to get out of the water, but it just swung down to whichever side he was climbing on and made it impossible for him to get on the high side. It was like trying to climb on a large ball or a bobo toy. It just kept turning and he was always on the bottom. He resigned himself to staying in the water.
Some people might have taken the opportunity to pray, but Justin wasn't religious. He didn't get along very well with most adults which included the local ministry just as he was often in trouble in school. Nothing big. He just wasn't that interested in history or math, so he would pass notes or shoot spit balls and sometimes, often, get caught. He was popular with his friends, but not so much with most of his teachers or his friends' parents. On this day, his friends were home doing homework. Even as he thought about that, and even as he felt the cold going deeper into his legs, he was glad that he wasn't doing homework. He smiled to himself as he thought about what a great story this would be when he got out of it. He couldn't wait to see how it happened.
He thought he might need some help and started thinking about who might be able to, or who might want to help him. The list was not very long. "Grandfather, please send someone to help me!" He often prayed to his Grandfather although he just thought of it as talking. He and Gramp had some great times together. If anyone would hear him, Justin thought, it would be his Grandfather! Gramps had played in the minor leagues as a pitcher when they still pitched two or three games a day. (Those guys only got a relief pitcher when they broke a bone in their hand.) He had loved to pitch to Justin who was always happy to be at bat, especially when the neighbors dog would field for him. Gramps could throw a spitball, a curveball, a razzledazzle upside down ball (which Justin knew they didn't throw in the majors anymore) and a killer sinker. They had gone to games together, whatever games they could. Sometimes local school games or they would stop by to watch a little league game, and once in a while they had been able to afford a real major league game. Sometimes they went to watch the Mets, and sometimes the Yankees. Gramps loved all baseball players, and so did Justin.
His arm was hurting and he switched to his left arm to hold on. He wasn't as strong on that side, but one wave the size of a
skyscraper had just lifted the nun, and Justin, up on the express elevator. It felt as if his arm almost came out of his
shoulder. Not really, just kidding Justin thought, but almost. And it really did hurt. He moved it above his head and out to
the side, and above his head and out to the side, trying to relax the muscles. He wanted to know as soon as if felt better so that he could hold on with it again....
Introducing Mickey and David
Neither David nor Mickey was the seventh son of a seventh son and neither one knew Justin. Neither was born under a black
moon or a blue moon. Yet, both had exhibited talents early on that sometimes amazed and sometimes frightened those who
lived with them. About the time that Justin had prayed to his Grandfather, and, as a matter of fact, at exactly the time that
Justin had thought his prayer, Justin popped into their heads. It was not the idea of Justin, or a thought of Justin, but Justin in real time sharing space in their minds. It was Justin in the way that we experience ourselves. It was Justin with his thoughts and feelings, both the physical ones and the mental ones too.
Mickey was with his nanny in a park near his home. He was on the swings and at the bottom of his swing and as his swing went up, so did the nun on the wave. As Justin's arm was jerked, Mickey's reported the pain. "Ouch" he said. His nanny looked at him and asked about it. He shrugged. Mickey was two years old. He could see Justin in his mind, but he didn't know his name. "He hurt my arm he answered his nanny. The water hurt him." This was the best he could do to explain what had happened to him. She frowned, confused, but she didn't ask and Mickey didn't say anything more about it. She had begun to think that he had imaginary playmates, and felt a little sad for him.
At that same time, David was in his afterschool program at the Jewish Community Center, which was also the Synagogue and a Gan. He was working with clay, making snakes to use as hair on his farmer's wife. He felt the jerk of his arm, as Mickey had, and saw Justin's predicament. David was six years old. He was more familiar with his gift. He had already learned not to talk about it with just anyone. For instance, he could talk with his mother, but not with his father. His father couldn't see and thought that David was just making up stories. However, his mother could also see sometimes, or at least that was what she told him. She used to ask him what he was seeing.
This time, it wasn't so much what David was seeing, as what he was feeling. His feet were suddenly numb from the cold and his
shoulder was hurting pretty badly. And, he felt scared, except when he was thinking about the razzledazzleupsidedownball. What
in god's name could that be? And who talked like that? And, since when was he saying "what in god's name"? That must be from the other kid too.
So this time it was different. It wasn't just a vision, although he could see plenty, but it was also that he could hear and feel what the boy was feeling. He closed his eyes. He couldn't see much. Something red. Water. That was about it. He wanted to know the boys name, but he couldn't hear him clearly. He almost dozed while he waited for the boy to make sense to him, or for his mother to pick him up. He ignored his clay statue. Later for clay....
Justin, hanging on to the Red Nun # 15 was thinking about his gramps. That always made him happy and he wasn't frightened when he thought about him. The waves coming toward him now looked like a herd of bald Wooley Mammoths but he wasn't afraid. What would his Gramps do? His Gramps would imagine throwing a slider at them. Or, perhaps that one over there would need a high'n'insidefastball. That made him smile. High'n'insidefastball. Even a Wooley Mammoth would have trouble getting his bat on that.
Justin stayed in his head, in his imagination, because his body hurt. He just kept slinging unhittable balls at the mammoths. "Strike One! Strike Two! The batter's looking nervous and the pitcher is winding up. Once more he throws and
HE'S OUT! What a pitch. What an arm! He never gave the batter time to recover. Talk about one, two -- three!"
Meanwhile, back in the park, Mickey was seeing the waves, and he "din't" know why he wasn't afraid. Not that he consciously questionned his own calm feeling, but when he looked at the waves and shut out the boy, he had the same kind of feeling he had when he heard thunder. Yet, when he thought about Justin, whose name he didn't know, he was happy the way he was when his mother picked him up and carried him up to bed for his nap. The boy was just thinking about somebody named Gramps and baseball. He knew it was base-ball although sometimes he got the name confused and said "soccer" or "basketball". But, the idea of Gramps made him feel warm and happy -- almost like laughing. He smiled. His nanny smiled back at him and pushed the swing again.
David was increasingly uncomfortable. His legs ached. His arms felt like deflated balloons. He couldn't feel his feet at all. He was so cold, he was having trouble breathing. He wasn't aware that his lips had turned a rather purplish color and his face was pale, but he did wish he could go to sleep. He felt more tired than he ever thought he ever had been. He just didn't want to leave the boy until he knew his name, so he struggled to stay awake with him.
His art teacher, Ruth, was happily assisting children with their projects. They were smiling and laughing, and she was laughing as she went from one to the other, until she spotted David's change in color. She thought her heart skipped a beat and she rushed over to him. He seemed dazed and half asleep. She touched his hand and it was icy cold. She motioned to her assistant and once she had her attention, she told her to go to the office and have them call David's mother. The assistant looked at David and she ran off. Meanwhile, Ruth rubbed his hands and talked to him. He smiled slightly, but didn't respond any more than that. He continued to stare vacantly off toward the blank wall until his mother arrived and picked him up. As he happily wrapped his legs around her and breathed deeply of her perfume, he whispered in her ear, "A boy came to visit. I don't know his name."
His mother felt a little relief as she rushed him out to the car. "It will be alright, David. I love you. I'm here with you
now. Can you let the boy go about his own business?"
"No" and he shook his head. "Will you stay with me, Mommy?"
"Of course, Darling," she answered as she got to the car and opened the door after shifting him to her hip. She sat him in his booster chair which was warm from the sun, and rubbed his hands until he looked at her, really looked at her.
David had to push the boy to the back of his mind to be with his Mom. He touched her face and smiled. "He's so cold," he said. "And he doesn't even know it."
She knew that he had visits with other children, but this was the first time she was frightened by it. David had never before
taken on physical symptoms and it had never been unpleasant. He just talked about a child at an amusement park, or at the ocean. They seemed to be simple "sharings" as she thought about it. She had an instinct about this one that it wouldn't turn out well for David unless she could learn more about the other boy and help him. One part of her told her to take him to the doctor, but another idea was that the doctor could not help and could easily make things worse. She decided to go with her second instinct.
She shut the windows to let the car heat up until it was uncomfortable for her, but David's hands seemed to warm up a bit. Then she moved to the front seat to drive him home. "I'm right here," she reassured him as she drove. She turned the rearview mirror so she could watch him. "Tell me what you're seeing, David, my love."
"He's in the water, Mommy. The waves are REALLY, REALLY HUGH! He's bouncing and holding on to something red. He's with his Gramps."
Back in Long Island Sound, Justin began to feel a little warmer and stronger. He was laughing at the way the Mammoths were swinging wildly at his pitches. He tried a few razzledazzleupsidedownballs, but that was a really hard pitch. His Gramps was next to him, telling him just where to
put his fingers, and just how to twist his wrist to get the most out of it.
David's mother looked back at him. The purple color in his lips was not changing. She put on the heat in the car and made a plan to put him in their sunroom, on the chaise lounger. She could wrap him in the down comforter from Minnesota and give him some hot chocolate. That should help....
Back in the children's park Mickey's nanny had taken him off the swing. It was time for him to have his bath and his nap while she fixed his dinner. He seemed cold, and she was a little ashamed that she hadn't noticed and had kept him in the park too long. There were thick dark clouds, gathering ominously, but it wasn't due to rain until late in the evening. It had seemed such a nice, late spring day up to that point, warm but not too warm, breezy, but still warm in the sun where the swings were.... Well, a warm bath and he'd be as good as new.... She took his cold little hand and they walked home together. She would have to pay more attention. Two year olds didn't know when they were cold, and their heat regulator wasn't working very well yet....
It was now after four o'clock and the sun seemed to be losing strength. The clouds were building. It was getting darker. Justin took a pause from his baseball and looked around. He didn't see or hear any boats. This was not a good sign. His parents wouldn't even worry about him until after dark, and then how would they find him? This was the first time since he had been able to grab a hold of the buoy that he had been worried. That had given him such relief to be attached to something permanent and Coast "Guardian"
that he hadn't given a thought to what might come next.
He thought that maybe he should make a plan. He didn't actually have any idea right away of what kind of plan he needed. He was as cold as he had ever been, but he had never been too cold. He had been cold, really, really cold in the winter when he had been playing for hours in the snow forts the neighborhood kids had made the weekend of the blizzard. A couple of them had gotten a slight case of frost bite in toes or fingers, but no one had suffered the next day. A bath when they got home burned a little, but then they were all fine. He didn't know anyone who was a mountain climber or rescue worker and had never heard about the long term effects of prolonged exposure. He didn't know that his life was in danger and his grandfather didn't tell him.
He looked over at Manor Park. It wasn't that far away, and if it was summertime and these waves weren't headed for the Throgs Neck Bridge, he thought he could swim it. But, he already had experience with these waves when they were half the size they were now and knew that he couldn't fight them. They would probably sweep him under the bridge into the East River if he let go of the nun, that was, and if he could stay afloat that long. And, then it would be dark and the Circle Line excursion boat would be on its last trip. He had loved that ride with his parents the year before.
That was the year before they started fighting. That was when he still used to rush home from school to have an after school snack with his mother. That was when he used to set the table for dinner so that they could eat as soon as his father got home.... But then, his father started coming home late, complaining about money. And his mother started talking about getting a job. She stopped baking and Justin had to ask her for something to eat when he got home. If she had something, she rarely sat with him to talk. Sometimes there wasn't anything to snack on and he had to drink milk or water until his father got home. If it was late, the food was dry and sometimes a little burned by the time he did get home. His father would complain and his mother would pout and he would try to eat because he was so hungry, but it didn't always seem worth it.
So, he started to go home with friends. The snack was good, but he didn't want to do homework. He wanted to play afterschool, and have fun. But, in his neighborhood, most of the kids' parents wanted them to get "great grades and go to a special high school."
His parents never talked to him about grades or homework. He guessed that he would just go to Mamaroneck Public High School. He started to talk to his classmates, looking for who else might be going to Mamaroneck. He found them. They were the kids who didn't have such great grades, or clothes. And, some weren't very respectful of the teacher. They frightened him a little because they weren't very nice to each other either. Justin hadn't developed that "I don't care" verneer. This would be a tough transition for him.
And so, he often spent an afternoon by himself, exploring. He liked coming down by the water. Sometimes he had to sneak through people's yards to get to the water. He was an expert. No one ever caught him. This was what had put him in this predicament. He had thought he would go out on the breakwater to watch the waves explode against the rocks, and the water swirl around the end of the breakwater. He hadn't figured that the rocks would be so slippery. It was too late when his first foot slipped. He had bent over to grab the rocks with his hands and save himself from a twisted ankle, but then a wave had come over the breakwater and pushed him into Long Island Sound. He had tried to grab ahold of the nearby rocks, but couldnt' get a good hold of any of them, and the water just swept him away. Once out from behind the breakwater, the waves caught him. At first he was laughing because it was a little exciting and his clothes were still warm. It seemed like the best water ride in any amusement park. He wondered what the other kids would say if they could see him.
But, then the cold announced itself, and he realized he wasn't making any headway toward the shore. The red nun was just off to the side, and he had headed for it. Good instinct! Luckily, he had managed to grab the handle/ring that the Coast Guard boats tied up to when they needed to do maintenance on the buoy. Otherwise, he would have been swept in the surge toward City Island and the Throgs Neck Bridge.
He felt good about himself when he managed to hold on. He felt good about himself when he thought of his belt and was able to get that looped through the ring and then buckled again. He even felt good about himself when he managed to get it wrapped around his hand, and then the other hand, and was able to hold on.
Now, as the sky darkened, he wasn't feeling so good about himself. He was getting a little worried. He hadn't seen any boats. Mid May was a little early for most boaters. The Larchmont Yacht Club had a few boats in the harbor, but it was a weekday, and the weather was a bit ominous. Not one boat left the harbor, or returned to harbor while Justin was hanging on to the buoy that marked the channel.
And, the people who had been in Manor Park were leaving. He hadn't thought about trying to get their attention while there was still sunlight, because what could they do? They didn't have boats. They would probably have just waved back. He had assumed that a boat would go by eventually.... And now, he couldn't see anyone over there.
Yet, he didn't feel alone. He felt cold, but not that cold. He didn't like the idea of being there all night, but he
wasn't feeling inspired to do something different.
"Gramps, could you please tell someone that I'm here, Justin is here? May be you could tell Mom that I'm hungry.... Tell Dad that I'll do my homework every night if he just gets someone to come out and get me...."
"Justin" David said. David had been snuggled up in the comforter since his mother got him home, but he hadn't been talking much. "Mom, his name is Justin."
David lived in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, and had never been to that section of Long Island Sound. Even though he now had the boy's name, as far as he was concerned, Justin could have been in Malibu, California rather than 25 miles away, still in New York. What he was seeing, the red buoy, the waves, the breakwater and even glimpses of Manor Park would not help since none of those landmarks were familiar to him. He described them to his mother, but she wasn't familiar with that part of the world either.
His mother called the local police precinct, but they hadn't had any reports of a missing boy. She didn't know what else to do, so she just waited with David and tried to keep him warm. After the hot cocoa, she gave him hot soup. He warmed up a little, but he should have been red and sweating the way she had him tucked up in the comforter. She had turned up the heat to 80 degrees in their home as the sun lowered itself behind the trees in their back yard. She was uncomfortably hot even in tee shirt and short skirt, but David still seemed cool.
There was a small TV on the sun porch, that his mother turned on. She kept it on the local news, switching occasionally from one station to another, avoiding the big national channels that only carried national and international news. She hoped that they would broadcast a missing child, but wasn't convinced that they would. She knew that children were kidnapped all the time, and had never seen one broadcast about a local child, or a New York child. Sometimes they talked about children in Buffalo or some other far away place, but she had never heard of a local "manhunt" or "child search"....
She realized that the radio might have more information, and went searching for a radio. She thought there was one upstairs in the guest bedroom because her mom enjoyed music when she came to visit. In truth, her mom had not visited for over a year. She realized that since she had started fighting with her husband, she hadn't invited her mom. She felt a little ashamed that her marriage seemed to be on the rocks....
"Rocks," David had said earlier. She had to remember that he was near some rocks and something red.
She found a radio and turned in on in the guest room. There weren't many clear stations available on AM, and FM was mostly music. She found what seemed to be a local station. It had advertisements for Costco in Yonkers and Stew Leonards. She brought it back to the sunroom, plugged it in and kept it quietly on the local station while she sat near her son, stroking his hair and rubbing his back.
She was very sad as she sat thinking about Justin. How old was he? Where was his mother and was she frightened yet? How frightened was Justin?
Mickey was not happy to go into the tub. His baby sitter, Sara, had to reassure him and remind him how much he loved the tub. He kept saying, "The water is cold. I don't want to go into the water." And then he cried. She held him and hugged him and finally got him to feel the water. Then, he cried that it was too hot.
She had forgotton how cold his hands were. She cooled it off a bit. She would warm it up little by little as he warmed up. As long as she could get him in the tub and keep him there....
Once in, he started to make waves and splash. His babysitter was annoyed, but he wouldn't stop.
"The boy," he said. "The water is too deep. It scares me!"
"Mickey," she answered calmly in spite of his splashing, "the water isn't too deep, and if you stop splashing, it won't get on your face."
"The boy's water," he said. "The boy's water is too deep...."
"Let's get out then," she suggested, getting his towel. "You had a long time at the park and probably need your nap more."
Usually, Mickey was the most cooperative of children and would bounce out of the tub happily as soon as she said that it was time. He loved his babysitter, Sara, and would do almost anything the moment she asked. So, it surprized her when he didn't move, and continued to splash and push the water around.
She asked him again, and he said, "No. The boy is tied up. He can't leave. The water is too high...."
"You're just dreaming," she suggested. "Mickey, you're having a dream. Let's get you out so you can have your rest...." She couldn't think of anything else that it might be. In her world, everything was visible and measurable, or it was a dream. She didn't expect spirits to be entering into her life, although she did go to church each Sunday and did believe in God. She just didn't expect angels or spirits to be talking to her or to Mickey.
But, Mickey wasn't dreaming and he wasn't being visited by spirits. It was something that would have been even more unbelievable to Sara than spirits. He was sharing another boy's life, perhaps in the collective unconscious, or the other boy was visiting him depending on your point of view.
"No," Mickey said. "Help the boy first. He wants his Mommy."
He was so firm, Sara didn't know what to do. This didn't seem to be a two year old rebellion, but something more that was strange. She got the phone and sat with him while he splashed. She dialed his mother and luckily, reached her right away.
"What is it, Sara," she asked with concern in her voice. "I have a meeting to go to in 5 minutes."
"I'm sorry, Ms, but Mickey is talking about a boy who's in some deep water.... I know this sounds silly, but he's upset and won't get out of the tub until we do something to help the boy...."
Mickey's mom didn't say so, but she was more concerned about Sara's mental health than that of her son. She had never had a more bizarre phone call in her life.
"Excuse me, Sara. I don't understand...."
"I don't either Ms. Could you please talk with him and see what you think?"
"Put him on. I really have to go...."
Sara could hear her as she held the phone for Mickey. He was happy to talk with his Mom. "Hi Mommy, I love you" he started.
She answered, "I love you too, Mickey, love you, love you, love you.... Sara said that you didn't want to have your rest.... Well, I have a surprize for you that I will bring home if you will go and have your rest now. What do you say?"
"Can't. The boy is cold," he answered. "He wants his Mommy.... Will you tell his Mommy?"
"Yes, Hunny Bunny. Mommy has to go to a meeting, but you go have your rest and I will tell his Mommy.... OK?"
This was the first time Sara saw Mickey relax since the park. "OK, Mommy. You tell his Mommy. Thanks. OK. I love you."
He handed the phone back to Sara and stood up, ready to be lifted out and dressed.
She put the phone down, got him out of the tub and they headed into his room. It was perplexing, but as long as he seemed relaxed and calm, she was happy.
Meanwhile, near Justin, the sky was now dark and the sun was low in the sky. Soon, perhaps in an hour, it would be pitch dark.
End of Part One
Part two will be posted next Monday....