An Exquisite Summer

As children, we all have a couple of summers that are perfect. Everything just seems to work in our favor and each day is simply pleasant. I had a summer like that. I lived on Butler’s Island in Darien, Connecticut, right on Long Island Sound. Looking at the water, directly ahead Greens Ledge Lighthouse stood guard over the Sound. A quarter mile to my left was Five Mile River and Wee Burn Country Club. To my right were the Fish Islands, Contentment Island, and the Tokeneke Beach Club. It was a perfect summer because the days were warm and the nights were cool, but neither to the extreme. The water was pleasant to swim in, or to fish in, or to drive my boat on. My boat was also a reason it was a perfect summer. It was an sixteen foot Boston Whaler with a pair of 60 horse Kiekhaefer-Mercury motors, strong enough to pull skiers or the many other devices we tugged behind it. It was a perfect summer because I was left mostly to my own devices. I had not been signed up for any activities, classes or sports. My summer belonged to me and I cherished it from waking in the morning to falling asleep at night.

My friends, Toby and Doug had been signed up for things. Doug as upset that his parents signed him up for tennis at Tokeneke. Toby got stuck with basketball. Just as we were really getting into something one of the would have to leave, going off to do their sentenced fun. But every now and then we had days that belonged to us all. We had an overnight. Doug and I had gone to Toby’s house to spend the night. We ate grilled cheese sandwiches and had chocolate milkshakes as then watched a black and white movie called “Frogman” on television. It was a World War II film about Navy commandos, Underwater Demolition Teams who went around blowing stuff up. We watched the movie totally fascinated and when it was time for bed, we talked into the night about being UDT commandos, deciding that we would begin our careers the following day.

With the sun still low in the sky we got a five man inflatable raft from Doug’s house. We took turns with the bicycle pump inflating it. The sun was midway in its transit when we finally dragged it down to the beach in front of my house to where my Whaler sat bobbing on its mooring. We paddled out to it in the raft and then set to lashing the raft alongside the Whaler. To be real UDT commandos, we would drive along in the Whaler until we came upon our target. Then the diver and helper would hop into the raft. As we motored along the diver would roll off the side of the raft and swim down to affix the charges to the target. That we had no explosives, nor targets for that matter, was of no consequence. It was the totally cool way of getting into and out of the water that was so cool. Completing the mission, the diver would tread water and hold up his hand to show he was ready for pickup. We would power over to the diver, the helper in the raft, and without slowing, the helper would hold a loop of rope over the side. As we passed, the diver would grab the loop and the motion of the boat would drag them up to the surface where they would roll into the raft, mission accomplished.

We spent a few hours trading places, driving, helping and diving, wearing ourselves out and getting better and better practiced at the maneuver. We were able to do it faster and faster, and only screwing it up occasionally. The diver would miss the loop and would have to wait for us to swing around and come back again, or lose grip and fall back into the Sound. We traded places again and this time I was driving, Toby was helping and Doug got to be the commando. He rolled into the water and skipped on the surface a few feet before disappearing under water. We watched for him to come back up, arm in the air. He popped up and I swung the boat in a tight circle and Toby leaned out with the rope loop. I skimmed right up to Doug and he grabbed the loop and lost his grip. He disappeared under the raft and the motors on the Whaler made a low growling noise. Almost immediately the water behind the boat turned red. Doug bobbed to the surface, his arms flailing all over the place. He was screaming. Toby and I looked at each other and then back to Doug in the water. I swung th boat around and maneuvered the raft next to where he was still flailing his arms. I jumped into the raft and Toby and I grabbed Doug and pulled him in. There were huge gouges in his left thigh, cutting deeply into the flesh and muscle, and blood was gushing from the gaping wounds.

Toby put his hands on the gashes, trying to stem the flow of blood and I jumped back into the boat. We were a few hundred yards off of the Tokeneke beach, dotted with sun bathers and people wading or swimming from the sandy shore. I rammed the throttles forward and steered straight for the beach. I blew into the area buoy marked as no boating at a full plane. People started to notice us and started waving and yelling at us to slow down and stand off. I ignored them all. I blew past a lifeguard standing in a dinghy with a megaphone, not hearing what he was yelling and just screamed “Look out! Look out!” My vision began to blur as the fear kept rising in me. I was crying. Doug was crying and screaming how it hurt so much and Toby was just looking blankly at Doug. He kept saying “no no no no…” over and over. We hit the beach, still on full plane and the boat flew up the beach, amazingly not hitting anyone. Without water, the motors started whining loudly and throwing sand all over until I turn the key off. I began to yell for help and people started running toward the boat, now beached fifty feet up from the waters edge. We were being yelled at and admonished angrily. I couldn’t make out what was being said I just kept screaming for help and pointing to Doug, who was turning whiter all the time. Maybe a little blue. In seconds, the boat was ringed with people yelling and moving. They grabbed Doug and carried him off and others helped Toby and I out of the Whaler and the raft. We were both crying hard now, our sobs shaking us so hard they threatened to knock us over. We both had towels draped over our shoulders but I was focused on all of the blood. It was everywhere. Toby and I were both covered with it. It seemed impossible there could be so much of it.

We were taken into the club building and brought to offices. They separated us and their stern looks informed us we were in serious trouble. I know I didn’t care about that, I just cared about where Doug was and if he was okay. I was put in a chair and told to stay there. I asked about Doug and was told to never mind Doug, just stay put. I did, and was left alone for about an hour. When the door opened, it was my mom who came in. I burst into tears and she scooped me into her arms. Sobbing, I told her how frightened I was for Doug and begged to know he was alright. She told me that he was in the hospital and he was alive, but didn’t know more than that. She told me she was taking me home, but I wanted to go to the hospital to see my friend. She took me home anyway, explaining that Doug was asleep and couldn’t see me anyway. I went to my room and moped. The day finished up with me spending most of the time looking out my window at the light house. I watched as the sky dimmed and the light began its sweeping blink, and long into the night.

In the morning I got up, my first thoughts of Doug. I began to think about Toby and wondered if he felt as badly as I did. I called his house and spoke to him. The thing is, neither one of us had much to say. We both said we felt badly and then sat there listening to each other breathe. Finally, Toby said he had to go and we hung up. I was miserable and just hung around the house. Television was uninteresting and I didn’t feel like doing anything. I noticed that my boat was back moored in front of the house and wondered how it got there. Around mid-morning I went and found my mom and asked her to take me to the hospital. She sat me down and told me that it was a bad idea to go there. I asked why and she repeated that it wasn’t a good idea. I kept up, of course, and finally my mom told me that Doug’s parents said they didn’t want me around their son anymore. I was persona non grata. Then she told me that Toby’s dad had said it would be best if I didn’t spend so much time with Toby, and that the time we spent together be when his parents were right there with us.

My wonderful summer was over. Halted in its tracks by fun gone so terribly wrong. In the few weeks before school started again I only drove my boat once, and that was to take my sister out fishing with a couple of her friends. It went okay until I opened one of the lockers and found the stain of Doug’s blood that hadn’t been washed and weathered away. Seeing it, my ears grew hot and I felt sick to my stomach. My sister saw it all, and she and her friends tried to cheer me up, but I was still sick about what happened. The rest of my time was spent making model airplanes and just hanging out, crawling the rocks there on the coast. A week before I was due to go back to boarding school, the doorbell rang. I was alone in the house and so I answered the door. Doug stood on the step, crutches holding him up. He had a cast on his left leg that all kinds of people had signed and drawn little pictures on. I didn’t know what to say to him. After we looked at each other a minute, I finally told him I was really sorry about his leg. He smiled and told me it was okay, that I didn’t really do it, I was just there. But I knew that it was my boat and I was driving. I should have thought about the consequences and I hadn’t.

Doug would be okay, but he was going to need a total of five operations to connect his muscles back up and a lot of physical therapy. He’d already had two operations and that was why he could walk enough to be standing there. He told me he was sorry that things went so bad and that his parents were mad at me. I didn’t really care that they were mad, I cared that they didn’t want their son to be my friend anymore. Doug told me that he was my friend and that the accident didn’t change that. He said he would see me again when I came back from boarding school for Christmas. I never did see him again. When I came home a few months later I found that his family had moved away. I would see Toby again a few more times over the next few years, but we mostly just said hello and went our way.

I spend a lot of time thinking about that summer. It really was a wonderful one. Everything about it was just perfect and I had great friends to share it with. Right up until that awful moment that my motors growled and the water turned so red behind the boat. During the year at school between Christmas and summer, my father sold my boat. So the last time I really used it was the day of the accident. But I have a lot of excellent memories of times I spent in the boat and the friends who spent that time with me. But invariably I think of Doug as well, and the memories become bittersweet. I hope wherever he is that Doug is happy and whole. That when he wears shorts or trunks he has a great tale to tell about how he got the scars that must be there still. I hope that because I wish him well, after all, he is still my friend.