The Dream of the Perfect Seashell (#431)
One question keeps running through my mind after what turned out to be, for all Charlie’s and my vacation anxiety, a fabulous two weeks:
What would Charlie be like if we lived full-time at the beach, and he could jump in the ocean and swim every single day in the rocking waves as he did this afternoon? If he could always be at the one place in the world where he feels able, more than the rest of mortals who do better walking on terra firma?
It’s a fantasy thought. It takes us only a few hours to drive to the Jersey shore from where we live (vs. two days when we lived in St. Louis, Missouri, and St. Paul, Minnesota, from 1995-2001), but it is still too far for us to commute to Jim’s job in New York City and mine in Jersey City. Even more of a consideration is that the school program that Charlie needs and has been flourishing in is not located in the part of New Jersey where the beach is—-and, too, we need to help take care of Jim’s parents (within five minutes of us driving up to “Grappa’s house,” Jim was dispatched to the grocery store for various paper products). A vacation town out in the Atlantic ocean is not the place to find the kind of specialized autism education that Charlie needs.
And yet, what sort of a parent am I if I am not doing everything I can to maximize Charlie’s potential?
As predicated, Charlie was something of an emotional wreck from the time he woke up today. He asked for a pot of white rice and somberly ate it, then—when I brought down his blue backpack with his clothes in it—said sternly, “backpack stairs.” He whole face trembled when we told him we had to put it into the black car to go home to see Grandpa and Grandpa, and then Charlie cried out “No Gramma Grappa! No!” But he got into the car and would have sat there while Jim ran back and forth packing and I wiped up fingerprints and swept up sand, except we coaxed Charlie to wait inside. He sat, totally dejected, slumping on the faded cushions and the bear our friends gave him.
An early lunch sitting at the counter of a clam bar perked Charlie up, but then he started to demand “b’ack car, b’ack car,” before he was done with his fish, fries and coleslaw. We suspected that Charlie wanted to get this leaving business over and done with—and it seemed just not right that Charlie would not smile one more time at his favorite place in the world down by the ocean.
With our serious boy in the backseat, we drove to where there is a lighthouse and a long rock jetty that leads to the ocean. In previous years, we have ended our vacation at the beach by walking up to the top of the lighthouse and out upon the jetty and one more time onto the sand and surf; today, we kept up that tradition. Walking on the rocks was the antidote to Charlie’s moaning about leaving: He had to concentrate to walk from boulder to boulder (some slippery with moss and salt water—I skidded down on one) and the ocean was right beside him. Indeed, we were practically walking in the ocean, as the jetty ended past the shoreline–and then we made our way down to the beach where there was a lifeguard, and Charlie was back where he belonged, body-surfing in rough waves and a strong current
(In the photo, Charlie has the green swimsuit and is swimming in the wave, or rather pouncing into it.)
(On the other hand, it may not be too easy to distinguish Charlie from the wave.)
I stood on the shore and marvelled at Charlie in the ocean and that was when the thought of “what would Charlie be like if he could swim in the ocean everyday?” came to me. I poked around for some shells and spotted part of the spiral of a nautilus-like shell. There is always a riot of mussel and clam shells and crab bits on the sand; I only collect the spiraled ones (otherwise, how to choose what shells to take home?). I have been doing this for the past few years and, on the lookout for one thing only, I tend to spot the one shard in a messy pile of seaweed-strewn shells: The spiral suggests the infinite, while the broken condition of almost all of the shells that I find is a reminder of how impossible that perfection is to achieve.
Of how hard it is to find the chambered nautilus—to find the perfect seashell.
Of how what the ocean washes up for us is pieces of perfection that we collect in a glass jar and look through in the wintry months to recall what the beach and the lost summer were like, and how the ocean smelled.
I have saved several such spiral shell fragments over the years and—while unable to give Charlie the ocean every day—can pass on these, and the trick of holding an almost-whole spiral to your ear to hear the ocean, no matter where you are.<