23: The Sand Castle Summer

23: The Sand Castle Summer

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

The Sand Castle Summer

Humiliation—the harder you try, the dumber you look.

~Larry Kersten

That summer was hot. Even the spring had been hotter than usual, causing the last month of seventh grade to seem like a year. Maybe it was just the changes my young body was going through that made it seem hotter. I hadn’t remembered perspiring like this before.

When Brad called to invite me to go to South Haven with his family, I must have looked desperate to Mom as I asked her if I could go. “What time will you be back?” she asked. This was always to be established before any further deliberation on such a request.

“Before dark,” I replied. “Brad’s dad hates to drive at night.”

“I suppose it’d be okay,” she said, “but be careful. You know I hate lakes.”

“Yeah, I know. I promise to be careful. Do you know where my new swimsuit is? Is it clean?” I asked hopefully. I knew that my mother would not let me wear the suit unless it had been washed, even though the trunks had only been worn in our small pool. Growing up in a large and poor family had made her a fanatic about clean clothes.

“Wear your old one. It’s clean.”

“But my old one is too tight!” I complained.


“If you want to go with Brad, you’ll wear the old one. You’re not going out in public with a dirty bathing suit. Now, are you going, or not?” she asked.

I knew I had no choice. I really wanted—no—had to go! Maybe I could just suck in my gut when I saw girls looking at me. Girls. That magical name for those magical creatures. Lovely, beautiful girls. At thirteen, my preoccupation with girls had turned into obsession. I loved girls. I adored the way they looked and smelled and walked and talked and I wondered if they even felt different. I couldn’t wait until I got a date. The only girl I had ever kissed was Jeannie, the girl next door, and I wasn’t going to pass this opportunity up. Yes. I could wear that suit!

The ride to South Haven was long, hot and quiet. Brad’s mom didn’t approve of “that disgusting racket that they try to pass off as music,” as she classified anything we liked. Brad’s dad had a “hearing problem,” (as in “I don’t wanna hear a buncha noise from you kids or I’ll turn right around and head for home, you hear?”), so the only sounds to be heard were road noises and squeaks from the bad suspension. Brad, his brother Brian, his sister Barbie, and I sat sweaty and motionless in our appointed seats, wearing our cloaks of boredom, windows fixed tight to their frames.

When we finally arrived at South Haven, it was late morning. Whispering, I said to Brad, “Maybe my suit will fit me now. I think I lost ten pounds of sweat.”

The sun had promised another July scorcher. South Beach was already crowded with nearly a full day’s complement of swimmers, sunbathers and gawkers. And there seemed to be a million fresh-faced sixteen-year-old girls; the object of every thirteen-year-old boy’s fantasies.

As we approached the water, I noticed a hundred sand castles dotting the beach, waiting for the waves to wash over them and destroy all of the dreams that went into making them.

Finally, after we found a spot to put down our stuff, it was time to swim. “Let’s go! Last one in is a monkey-butt!” we cried, running down to the water.

The first jolt from the cold water brought shockwaves to the nerves, causing involuntary spasms. Barbie, standing on the edge of the water, noticed our reaction and shouted, “Dorks!” As I looked back to reply, I noticed the three most beautiful bikini-clad girls I had ever seen stretching out a blanket by the swing set. Their radio was playing a Beach Boys song.

“Brad!” I shouted. “Brad!”

“What?” he answered excitedly.

“Look! Up by the swings! Do you see what I see? Wanna go play on the swings for awhile?” I asked, even as I headed toward the swings. “Go get Brian!”

Taking a wide turn around the girls, so as not to seem too obvious, I came to a swing. Putting on my best “I’m-not-looking-at-you” face, I searched the young ladies with furtive glances, hoping and praying that somehow one of the girls would notice me.

“Hey, Don. Watch this!” Brian was swinging furiously, going higher and higher. As the swing made a forward arc, he jumped. “Geronimo!!!” He landed with an audible thud on the hot sand, and flew forward, landing on his face.

Brad and I started laughing. Brian got up. He was caked with sand and his whole body shook with great heaving fits of giggling. Then it was Brad’s turn. He maneuvered the swing into a violent pendulum, exiting in a graceful arc. He landed on both feet, nearly crushing a grandmother who had been making her way to the swing with her granddaughter. Again, we all erupted into fits of laughter.

Seeing a chance to impress the loves of my life with my skills, daring, and athletic prowess, I hatched a plot to enable me to strike up a conversation with them. I would jump from the swing and land next to them! This would require swinging at an angle, but I could do it! Starting on an angular path, I began to gain momentum. Higher and higher I flew. The swing began to lose its line and I knew I would veer off course. I had to jump now or abort the plan!

Away I flew, and not very gracefully. I felt a sensation like a punch in the stomach a split second after my release. I was flying headlong toward the objects of my desire. Landing on my left shoulder, I did a bizarre somersault, which resulted in rolling right next to the blanket on which the girls were so well-displayed. It was at this moment that I realized that something else was wrong—my swim suit was still hanging from one side of the wildly thrashing swing! It had somehow become entangled in one of the ‘S’ hooks used to hold the swing onto the chains! And I was lying next to the three girls, hurt and naked! Yes! Naked!

“Please help me!” I shouted to no one and everyone. The girls just looked at me with wide eyes. One got up and began to run toward the policeman sitting at a picnic table. “Brad, get me a towel! Please!!” And Brad and Brian and Barbie and the remaining two girls and everybody in the whole world was laughing at me, as I tried to cover myself. “Brad! Brian! Someone help me!” I screamed. Days passed before Brad brought me a towel.

Wrapping myself in the towel as I ran toward the car, I felt a flush of embarrassment and humiliation. The ringing sound of derisive laughter followed me to the car. The throbbing in my shoulder was intense, but the terrible reality of the moment was far more painful.

And so my summer search for teenage love ended. Like castles of sand, youthful dreams sometimes also perish against the tide.

~Donald Verkow

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