I stood at the edge of the pier, looking down, past my toes and into the dark water between the spaces in wooden beams. The water was still and black, like the coal piled up in the back corner of our basement. There were horseshoe crabs and jellyfish in this water; I knew because I had seen them from my safe place on the beach. The jellies washed up on shore and even though they were dead, when my cousin Danny poked them with a stick we would all yelp and squeal, running further up the sand and away from the shoreline cemetery. The horseshoe crabs were the ones to worry about.
They reminded me of the helmet headed bad guys from super Mario brothers who you could only defeat by jumping on their head in the exact right spot. If you bopped it twice, it simply died but the more finessed players bopped it once freezing it and then kicked it and like a bowling ball racing down the lane, the former enemy became an accessory, knocking all the other out of Mario’s path.
It wasn’t just diving into horseshoe crab invested waters that made me nervous, but the inevitable swim from the dock to the shore where once my feet touched the sandy floor of the Shrewsbury River, I would have to navigate the horseshoe crabs territory, cautious not to step on one of their sharp tails. My Grandpa would pick those horseshoe crabs up by their tails and in one circular motion toss them out into the waves, but eventually they would all make their way back to the shallow banks, never giving up their home to a bunch of rambunctious kids. Those horseshoe crabs were brave, and so was my Grandpa. He was the one who was teaching me to dive. We had already spent hours that summer working on my technique and form. The hardest part was learning to blow the water out my nose – “You can’t dive with one hand holding your nose!” The dive was no problem off the back of Chapter 3, my Grandparent’s boat, and I had finally mastered the dive off the dock, into the deep part of the river. I could dive in and out, as far as I could go and turn and climb safely up the ladder built into the side of the dock.
But now, my next challenge was before me. It was higher, darker and ended with a shore full of menacing crustaceans. It was early; early enough that the adults were still in their pajama’s sipping coffee and most of the kids were either still sleeping or watching cartoons. I didn’t know how long I had been standing on the dock contemplating my dive, but I knew it wouldn’t be long before the house came alive and my moment was gone.
I could feel the sun heating up my shoulders, and as I debated moving over to the dock for another few practice dives, I heard the screen door slam and out stepped my Grandpa in his swim trunks. As soon as he saw me he began to run across the sand – “Heeey, Lisha!” he called. And so, before he barreled down the dock and gracefully leapt into the air to complete one of his famous dives, and steal all my thunder, I did it. I raised my arms above my head and brought my palms together, bent my knees ever so slightly and then before catapulting my 9 year-old form into the water I let out that Santoro rallying call… “YO TURKEYS!”