We piled into the ubiquitous Buick Estate Wagon. Glitter cherry red punctuated by plastic wood and bike scratches. I took the back seat facing the disappearing road and threw the finger-peace sign to drivers avoiding my eyes. My parent’s best friends followed with their children a few station wagons behind us and I kept track of them by counting the palm trees that separated us. We’d all clamber out of our cars soon enough, peeing at a rest stop, airing out the sweat that’d collected in creases and folds.
I’d known David since we were in utero. My mom and his mom spent nearly every pregnant day together counting down our births. We were supposed to end up best friends like our parents, but I spent most of my early days hitting him across the mouth. I was the oldest child of four, and he was an only son, just recently joined by a little sister adopted from Korea. I liked his sister better, even if David benevolently allowed me to punch him and never struck back; except for that one time at church when his peaceful nature wore thin at the edges. That incident became legend, preserved for all time in Super 8: the two of us in blue satin karate suits, my sucker punch, the retaliation, his dad’s pleased smile, me, red-faced and tear-drenched with my failed fist in my mouth.
We were older now, just. I’d grown to seek out his silence because it was rarely quiet in my expressive family. His new baby sister shared his quiet manner, if not his blood. They both provided a bastion of serenity for my whizzing mind. And even so, I continued to peck at David with questions and punches and observations and expressiveness while he patiently endured the onslaught of my more unsettled personality.
“Do you see them?” my little brother tried to peek over the back door latch. I continued to search for his car yards and yards behind us. Our family vacation promised to be full of chlorine and hot dogs and neither one of us could wait much longer. We were going to David’s cousin’s house in Los Angeles, a city my dad pronounced “LA,” and which I thought meant “Illay.” It sounded exotic and the palm trees proved it.
“They’re right there.” I peace-signed another hapless driver and pointed my chin forward. My brother bounced in anticipation, grabbed his duffle bag and not five minutes later, we pulled into the driveway of a Southern California ranch house, set with stone and brick red shutters, and tumbled from our respective cars, already half into our bathing suits.
This is where I forget details. I remember the dads going out that night, and waking up to our Estate Wagon parked crookedly in the driveway and bruised knuckles on the men. I taste the Wonder Bread bologna sandwiches, feel the sun’s sting on my nose, smell charcoal and cigarettes; but I can’t walk my brain back to when David’s little sister ended up in the pool. I do see the sliding glass door, the parents sitting around the table, hear the “Where’s Kimmie?” And still: her wandering away and when always elude me.
Here’s where the memory comes back. My dad rushing to the pool, Kimmie’s black hair spreading like ink around her, a prone figure facedown in the water. It’s the hair I remember most of all.
I lose the mental image trail again here, but I know there was CPR, adults screaming and crying, and turned over chairs.
Revived and wet and tiny and scared and gasping.
I never punched David again.
Leave it to me to cast a black pallor over summer’s bright hue. But there it is.
As for you: What’s your summer vacation memory?