I’ve been caught in a flood of sorts, a flood of memories wherein I am repeatedly made aware that what I’ve seen/heard in the past is either not what I believed it was or, worse, something I forgot about: The guy who was clearly crushing on me, the boss that sexually harassed me, the “friend” who made sure that I failed, and recently, this:
In 1985 I went to San Diego to meet a friend stationed there with the Marine Band.
As was the fashion in those days, there was a certain amount of partying to be done. I’d only been to California as a child, not as an adult; and one night we spent the evening on the beach, drinking, smoking, sticking bits of various food stuffs onto sticks and holding them over the fire. We started early and went late, as was our wont; and by 3:00 a.m., the men were practicing their rifle twirling with driftwood and I was dancing around the fire.
We were delightfully drunk.
And then a car pulled on to the beach, startlingly close, to this Minnesota girl’s point of view, to the water. I was, after all, raised to be a “lert” – so when two women and a man got out of the car, I was watching.
They were drunk as well, but one of the women was particularly drunk-looking. She was hanging, head down, between the man and the woman, who were looking at each other over the center one’s head.
They walked to the ocean.
They walked into the ocean.
The woman in the center raised her head, her arms flailed as she appeared to be pulling away from the people supporting her.
“Hey, John,” I said. “Look over there. What are they doing?”
John turned around and we watched as the two people on the outside of the threesome let go of the woman in the center and pushed her down, down, until her head was under the water.
“Hey! Hey!!” I screamed, running toward them.
“Pearl!” John yelled, running after me.
“What are you doing? You’re gonna hurt her!”
The man grabbed the woman’s head and pulled it up and she sputtered, spitting water for a bit, and then her head hung down again. She appeared to be horribly drunk, but then again…
“What’s wrong with her?” I said. “What are you doing?”
“Oh, uh…” the man trailed off.
“She, um…” the woman trying to get the drunk (drunk?) woman to stand straight began to stutter. “She, uh, she, she, she, she took some, uh, pills. We’re trying to help.”
“What?” I said.
John grabbed my arm.
“No,” I said, pulling away. “No. What’s going on?”
The man and the woman, in the meantime, had managed to drape the middle woman’s arms back over their shoulders and were walking, quickly, up out of the surf and onto the beach.
I tried to follow.
John grabbed my arm, and this time I couldn’t pull away.
“But – “
“No,” he hissed.
In the meantime, the three were back to the car. They pushed the middle woman into the back seat, got into the front seat, and drove away without turning their lights on.
I’m sure there were cell phones available back then, but I certainly didn’t have one, nor did anyone I know. I watched as the car pulled away.
John handed me a beer and I began to hiccup.
“Are they going to kill her?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “But we’re not getting involved with strangers on the beach.”
There was nothing I could do. The drunk Marines I was with didn't want to hear about it. I returned to the fire.
And then I forgot about it.
And now, over 20 years later, I’ve remembered this night.
I hope she lived. And if she didn’t, I hope the perpetrators have been caught and punished.
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