On a steamy, close summer day in 1990 we woke up early. No alarm clock needed. Older Daughter, as always, awakened happy and talkative, a stream of stories emanating from her heart-shaped lips and a thousand questions swirling like a whirlwind through the kitchen. Within minutes, her favorite neon-bright suit was up over her bony little shoulders, the elastic on the legs tugged into place.
This was no ordinary beach outing. We were beach warriors. No small cooler-for-two with a couple of drinks and a peanut butter sandwich for us. Our cooler was righteous: huge and filled with ice over juice boxes, a quart of lemonade, some yogurt, freshly washed grapes and our go-to sandwich for days at the beach: meatloaf. I don't know why...but we loved meatloaf sandwiches at the beach.
She was always responsible for whatever she wanted to have with her at the beach, even at 2. If she couldn't carry it, it didn't go. Because a bucket, a little shovel, and a tiny rake were all it ever took to occupy her, she trundled out to the car with her stash and stood by the trunk, waiting. She could barely contain her excitement. This was the BIG beach. The ocean. We spent almost every summer weekend day for the first 10 years of her life at a lovely little lake beach, with shaded areas for mom and an easy walk to the water that stayed very shallow for a long time. But this day, we were headed up to the North Shore to a proper ocean beach with real waves and tons of people.
At the shore, the day was gloriously sunny, not too hot, and with a lovely sea breeze that was enough to keep us cool but not so much that our meatloaf got sandy. For hours, I read on the shoreline while she sat beside me digging and filling her holes with water, a running commentary going about the world she was creating in the sand. She was the sweetest little girl, and at only two was incredibly verbal and to me, fascinating. Occasionally she would come and ask to go back into the water, and I happily obliged. I love to swim, and I wanted her to have a healthy respect for the ocean. It was a perfect day. In the afternoon, we weaved between the towels and umbrellas, up the beach and away from the water, and she fell asleep under a towel, her precious little thumb thrust deep into her mouth. I pulled the brim of my hat down some to cover my sun-vulnerable nose and finished the Boston Globe Magazine, thinking life could not be any sweeter. She was my constant companion, my pure devotion, my life's work.
After her nap we agreed to one more swim together before taking off for the ride home. We wondered if we'd see an ice cream truck in the parking lot, and talked about what we might get. The beach was packed. People were cheek-to-jowl, and the smell of coconut oil permeated the summer air. I looked around and noticed what I frequently did: my beautiful, loving, brilliant child was alone in her blackness. At a public beach with wall-to-wall people, one black person. We folded our striped towels, threw out our trash, dumped the ice out of cooler, and took off for the water. Along with dozens of other people, we made the slow migration down the beach, being careful not to kick sand on sleeping sun-lovers as we went. She got a little ahead of me, only a few feet really, and I was able to admire her adorable little form in her green suit. As we trekked through the hot sand, a woman wound up walking next to me. She leaned over and said, in conspiratorial tone, "Figures. The only kid on the beach whose parents aren't watching her is the black one." My head shot to the right so fast I thought my neck might break. I looked her dead in the eye and said, quietly, "that's my daughter, and I most certainly am watching her."
It was not the first or last time someone made a stupid, racist remark to me about one of my children, but it's the one that stuck out in my memory as I heard the Zimmerman verdict.
Trayvon could be my child.