“Where do you think we should park the chairs?” Mother asked, as we withdrew them from the car trunk.
“As close to the water as possible. That way, we can spot Aaron easily,” Kim responded.
They sat practically in the mud, but that was okay with her; it was an excruciatingly hot day. Four-year-old Aaron immediately removed his little blue sandals and ran to the shore. Kim watched the water for a while, sitting on her striped beach chair. Something about the waves rolling in and out and the repeated motion was calming.
“I can breathe here,” Kim said.
“Well I can too,” her mother answered, “but ever since we arrived, my nose has been running and my eyes tearing. I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” she said and dabbed both areas with the white towel she had slung across the chair. “Tell me Kim, what are you going to do about this situation?” she asked changing the subject. “Your husband and child are depending on you.”
“Yes, I know they’re depending on me,” Kim answered, “but what can I do? Nobody wants to hire me.”
“Now Kim, that kind of attitude doesn’t get anybody anywhere. It’s sure not going to put food on your table.”
“Don’t you think I know that?” Kim snapped. “It’s just one of those situations where I just do not know what to do!” She watched Aaron out of the corner of her eye. He found a small group of playmates on the beach, boys who were about a year older than him. They were digging a giant hole in the mud, surrounded by a sand castle. The boys ran back and forth, dripping mud over the top of the castle. Aaron squealed with delight, as they included him in their play. Despite the heat of the argument with her mother, Kim enjoyed watching him, seeing how easily he adapted to becoming acquainted with new comrades. A slow smile spread over her lips.
“What are you smiling about, Kim?” Mother asked. “We were just discussing something very serious here.”
“Well I needed to get back to reality, didn’t I?” Kim asked herself. Just yesterday, she’d spoken with her therapist, Sophia. She went on and on about her job situation or lack of one. Scooping nearby sand, she thought of how she’d told Sophia how much she wanted to remain in her chosen profession. Yet nobody wanted to hire her. Sophia, a tall woman with soft blond ringlets surrounding her face explained, “You have to look beyond the box, Kim.”
“Which box is that?” she asked.
“The one that says you can only work in a public school”, Sophia replied. “I know it’s what you want but maybe it’s just not possible right now. You need to think about how you’re going to get through this academic year, nothing else.”
“Maybe that is what I need to think about,” Kim mused. She turned to her mother then, tucking that annoying blonde hair behind her ear. “Maybe there are other options, Mom.”
“Well, there are private schools and nursery schools,” Kim answered.
“Do you really think that’s where your future lies…in a nursery school, with all your education?”
“Look, I’ve tried everything I can think of,” Kim answered, not looking at her but at the ocean instead. She was watching the waves breaking toward the shore and back out again. “My therapist thinks that I should just focus on getting through this year. Maybe I’ll actually like it,” she laughed.
“I guess you have to do what you think best,” her mother answered, with not much faith in Kim’s opinion.
“Why can’t my mother give me any support?” Kim wondered, clutching at her stomach. A burning, sick feeling flooded her insides. It hurt so much, she thought, not sure if she meant her stomach or emotional anguish.
“I wish I were in a position to help you, financially I mean,” her mother said, taking a compact out of her straw handbag and examining her eye, “but you know how the stock market has been.”
“I didn’t ask you to help me,” Kim answered, looking once more at the waves. Suddenly, she turned and Aaron was not playing with the boys any more. She scanned the beach to see where she spotted him. He was not standing with the crowds at the edge of the surf, separated by a rope. The lifeguard was sitting in his stand, oblivious.
Kim jumped up and called, “Aaron, Aaron, where are you? Mom, I don’t see Aaron, do you?”
Mom turned around toward the sand behind them. There was no sign of Aaron. “Maybe he had to go to the bathroom. I’ll go up on the boardwalk and look.”
“I better go talk to the lifeguard, Kim replied, shakily, running over to him.
“Excuse me,” Kimberly began, “I’m looking for my little boy. He’s four years old and his hair is blond. He’s wearing a red bathing suit and…and a light blue shirt that says, ‘CYCLING’ on the front. My mother and I were sitting over there,” she continued, pointing with a trembling finger. “He was playing with those boys there,” she said, shaking as she pointed again. “I turned around for a moment and then…and then… I lost sight of him!”
“Why don’t you ask the boys he was playing with?” the lifeguard asked, lifting his binoculars to scan the water. “If they don’t know, I’ll take the boat out and start looking in the water. Does he swim?”
“Only a little doggy paddle. He’s just four,” Kim answered, running over to the boys. She shook her head not wanting to picture Aaron in the water, over his head.
“Boys,” she began, more authoritatively than she felt, “another little boy was playing with you before. He was wearing a red bathing suit and light blue shirt. Do you know where he went?”
“Nope,” said the oldest, who was maybe eight. The others all shook their heads like monkeys, not wanting to look up from their digging.
“You don’t know where he went? He played with you for almost an hour!” Kim exclaimed. Oh god, why was this happening to her? Her baby!
Suddenly, her mother was beside her, “He’s not on the boardwalk, Kim.”
“Oh my God,” she cried. “What are we going to do?!” she screamed a crescendo, putting her hands over her already watering eyes.
“Come on, Kim,” her mother answered. “We’ll find him. I’ve had these situations when you were growing up too. One time I was in the bakery and when I looked down, you were gone. I thought I’d lose my mind, but a few minutes later, there you were hiding in a corner.”
She did not want to hear her mother’s ridiculous story. Instead, she ran back to the lifeguard and said, “We can’t find him! The boys don’t know where he wandered off to, and my mother didn’t find him on the boardwalk either. We don’t know what to do!”
“Okay lady, take it easy,” the young lifeguard answered, his shaggy blonde hair fell over his brow. He lifted his walky talky, shaking the hair out of his face and said, “Yeah, a four year old boy is missing: red bathing suit, light blue shirt. I’m taking the boat out now, Roger.” As he jumped down from his seat, he turned to her and said, “Meanwhile try to think of where he might go.”
Kim walked back to their seats on the beach, where her mother was waiting. “Mom,” she said, gathering her strength, “One of us should stay here, in case he comes back, looking for us.”
“That’s a good idea,” her mother replied, wrapping her arm around her daughter.
It felt false to Kim, like she was being strangled. “Where could he have gone? Where could he have gone?” she thought. She looked down, not moving, and saw his little green pail, his orange shovel, and his sandals lying where he had left them in the sand. “This is unbearable,” she thought, covering her eyes, once more.
Kim looked up when her mother said, “I gave him a quarter before. Do you think he would have gone to the snack stand?”
“I don’t know, I’ll go see,” she answered.
“Oh, please be there, please be there,” Kim silently prayed, as she ran across the sand. She was wearing her brown sandals, crossed at the big toe with a huge plastic daisy in the middle. As she ran, the sand went inside, weighing her down. She couldn’t run very fast and pulled the sandals off her feet in frustration, muttering, “Darn sandals.” She began running across the scorching sand, impervious to her burning feet.
She scooted over to the indoor snack stand. Out of breath, she scanned the customers. One old lady stood there, her white curls hanging beneath a huge straw beach hat. Next in line was a woman about her age, holding her daughter’s hand. The little girl was blonde, like Aaron, and wore a red two piece bathing suit. “Oh my god, where could he be? Why aren’t there more children in here?” Kim thought.
“Excuse me, excuse me,” Kim said, pushing to the front of the line. She grabbed the teenage boy working behind the counter by the front of his shirt. “Have you seen my little boy?” she asked him, loud enough for everyone to hear. “He’s four years old and blond, like the little girl over there!” she asserted, releasing her hold on him so she could point to the girl. “He’s also wearing a red bathing suit and a blue tee-shirt that says< ‘CYCLING’ on it.”
“No, ma’am,” the boy answered, backing out of her reach. “I haven’t seen any little boys all morning.”
“Has anyone else seen a little boy?” Kim screamed.
Everyone shook their heads, in a “No” motion. The mother of the little girl looked at her with a sympathetic smile.
Kim’s shoulders slumped in defeat, as she turned and began walking back across the beach to where her mother was waiting. Her mother was looking around for her, and for Aaron. When her mom’s eyes locked with hers, Kim shook her head to indicate she hadn’t found him.
Kim sat down in the beach chair, letting the wet tears slide down her face. “What am I going to do, Mom?” she sobbed. “What if someone snatched him? What if we never see him again?” she asked, clutching his little sandal to her chest.
“Do?” mom asked, “I’ll tell you what you are going to do, Kimberly. You are going to pull yourself together, young woman, so that the two of us can think rationally. So that we can put our heads together and figure out a game plan!”
“How dare you act as if I can’t think straight, mother,” Kim hissed, all the bottled-up anger and frustration coming to the surface. “You’re the one who acted as if my ability to find a job was a matter of life and death! Do you see what’s really important now, mom?!” Kim screamed at her. “Do you?”
“Kimberly, lower your voice this instant. I am highly embarrassed,” mother answered, dabbing her eye with her towel once more. “Blaming others doesn’t help anyone. We have to figure out a strategy here!” her mother continued.
“Of course, you’re right,” Kim answered, trying desperately to control her anger and frustration. “Did you read the article in the paper, that story about the little girl in Sam’s Club stores?” Her mother took her eyes off her for a minute, just a minute, and a kidnapper already had her in the bathroom with half her hair shaved off! Oh my God! What if something like that is happening to Aaron?” Kim cried. The tears were falling like a waterfall down her face, as her chest heaved up and down.
“Kimberly, I said it before. Get a hold of yourself, you are letting your imagination get the better of you. Don’t you think I care about my grandson? My flesh and blood? You or I or both of us have to figure out what to do!”
“I feel so helpless.” Kim said.
“You won’t if you’re proactive. Act instead of feeling! Look, you see over there,” Mom said, pointing her finger. “And there? Those are lifeguards walking around, searching for your son, but you can’t rely upon them, Kimberly. Nobody can do the work for you. He’s your responsibility!” her mom exclaimed.
Kim put her hands over her ears, listening to her thumping heart and the thundering surf, rolling in and out, back and forth. Suddenly, she jumped up, not knowing where the strength came from. “You’re right, mom!” she exclaimed as she shook her mother with both hands around her. “Maybe he wandered to another beach. He’s lost.”
Kim moved around quickly, purposefully. This time she barely noticed the hot sand. “Aaron has me, only me,” she thought. “I’m his mother, the only one who can help him.”
“Oh thank you mom,” she said aloud. “Thank you for catapulting me into action,” but she didn’t dare take the time to turn around and smile her thanks to her mom. She’d do that later.
Kim walked with long strides over to the next shoreline. The beach was jam packed with people, but she sang to herself,the lyrics of a lullaby.
The ocean crashed in and out; it was a kind of music beside her silly song, she thought and repeated her song.
She watched for an instant, some older boys, tall lean bodies with bathing suits down to their calves. There was a tall blonde one, his hair over his eyes. His red bathing suit hung so low that, another half inch and his behind would be exposed. She imagined that Aaron would look just like that when he’d become older. “Oh my God, Aaron, how could I have let my attention wander? I’ve got to find him!” she screamed.
Kim turned away from the shore and looked at row upon row of strangers beneath beach umbrellas. It was overwhelming; there were so many people. “How will I ever find him?” She asked herself, panicky again. “Sing,” she told herself, “Sing…Wait! He only has me, remember? Maybe if I walk up and down each row looking for him. Oh please, don’t let anything bad happen to my little boy,” she prayed.
In the first row, she spotted an old woman in a big hat, rubbing sunscreen on her bald husband. “Why am I wasting time looking at them?” she wondered.
In the next row, Kim saw a mother nursing her baby surreptitiously, under a blanket. She remembered nursing Aaron like that. “Oh, Aaron, Aaron! Where are you? Where did you wander off to? Where do I go next and how can I help you? I’m so lost without you,” she murmured to herself, almost crying again. “Don’t you know that you’re the most important part of me?”
Kim scanned the beach once more, her eyes drifting over to the boardwalk. Right underneath it, some dark-skinned young men were sitting with bongo drums, playing a song. The beat of the drums echoed the beating of her heart. Some people were standing in front of them, swaying to the music.
Suddenly, Kim started walking quickly, very, very quickly. “Could it be?” She couldn’t believe it. There, three feet away, she saw a purple towel lying in the sand. “Please be the Barney towel, oh please, be Aaron’s Barney towel” she prayed to herself. Her hands clasped together, as she walked.
Kimberly ran. She made out the shape of Barney’s enormous dinosaur head on the towel. A little figure sat upon it, tapping his thighs to the beat.
“A…Aron?” she asked, approaching the figure.
“Mommy!” Aaron screamed in delight, reaching his little hands out to her. Tears of joy and relief flowed down Kim’s face, as she reached down to lift her son up. She swayed to the music a little too.