The tale is an infamous one, shared between my family and our oldest, best family friends, the Scrudatos. “The time Thea and Bella ran away at the beach” is what our parents call it; however, I remember the purpose of that unauthorized beach adventure to be something other than an attempted escape out from under our beach umbrellas.
In fact, Thea and I had confirmed with each other that we both would be able to remember which umbrella was ours on the return trip. Such planning and mutual agreement was only too typical for Thea and me, only 5 years old at the time, but long since burgeoned partners in crime.
The event occurred 14 years ago at Atlantic Avenue Beach, at some point in between trips to the “Snack Shack” for Baby Bottle Pops and French fries. I still remember our 5-year-old logic clearly, perhaps because of how much we had to explain ourselves after the fact: We had wanted just to go on a walk. We could not have been running away because we planned on coming back.
There were moments, though, when I was unsure of the walk. When we were moving away from the umbrella, I recall looking back and becoming aware that all the umbrellas actually did look very similar despite what Thea and I had said.
We had gotten far along the beach. All the families’ beach encampments, including ours (the location of which was long forgotten), were dots in the distance behind us. There was just the occasional passer-by, probably skeptical of our parents’ parenting abilities. I vaguely remember someone flying a kite and asking us something, and knowing that we were not supposed to be talking to strangers.
Perhaps he was pointing out our parents to us, because then mine and Thea’s were all out sprinting down the sand and toward us. Maybe the man’s proximity was their specific cause for the running; I believe my parents asked whether I had been speaking to him and I felt some I-should-know-better guilt.
There are two other feelings that I remember having during the “reunion.” While my parents hugged me and expressed mainly just relief, Thea’s parents had already initiated the reprimanding phase. I am sure my parents saw to that as well, but interestingly I do not seem to remember. Anyway, I felt the disciplinary imbalance between Thea and me in that moment, but did not feel bad for her so much as I was nervous to have found that parental panic can sometimes take the form of yelling.
The other thing I remember is wanting to laugh at the fact that there I had been, strolling and appreciating the seaside, at peace, when all of a sudden my parents, in an opposite mental state, emotionally tormented, had come stampeding down the coast like they were storming the Normandy beaches.
Going somewhere without adult supervision, with a friend, is one of the first great privileges that many children experience. It seems that Thea and I believed we were a strong, functional enough unit to bypass our parents’ authority (and inevitable negation), and to decide for ourselves that, yeah, we definitely deserve that privilege, right now. This was not typical behavior for either of us. We did not constantly usurp our parents’ authority. I can think of a few times that we chose not to do something alternative because we anticipated repercussions. Though, according to Thea’s dad, we were and still are “twits.”
Now, it is clear to me that our misjudged decision to take the beach walk was kindled by our desire to spend time together. To each other, we were the person with whom we could imagine going off into the world (the unexplored half of Atlantic Avenue Beach), with whom we could be self-sufficient, and sort of like adults, or at least people with free beach-walking privileges. That is to say, our unorthodox departure from our families’ beach nest was admittedly too soon, but for the record, it felt right because it was with the right person with whom to branch out.
When we got older, we would inform the parents (the “parental unit,” or “P.U.” as ordained by Thea) that we were going on a “lifeguard walk,” which meant that we would walk in between the lifeguard chairs. We took the new stipulations of our walks well, and I remember being monumentally happy to walk with Thea, flop around in the warm sand up by the dunes, and wrap our towels around our heads.
Thea and I met in preschool, when we were 2, and on all accounts, we were inseparable. One particular account, my preschool report, read, “Bella has a special friend with whom she likes to chat and sit on the plastic couch during cleanup, instead of helping out.” Thea’s family received a copy-and-paste of the same statement with her name in place of mine.
The next day at drop-off, our parents found each other in the hall: “Are you the parent of the special friend?” Little did they know, their designated lost-child story to be told and retold would be one that they shared. Little did we know that as Thea left the cafe in which we would say our going-to-college goodbye, she would cock her head and say with, as usual, excellent comedic timing, “Hey, you’ll always be my special friend.”
And even littler did Thea and I know that, as a matter of fact, we were not adult humans during the summers we traipsed about Atlantic Avenue. Rather, we made each other feel that way, as if we were set for life. Thea was the first person who was to me, my partner. We spent only a year together at the same preschool, and have gone to different schools since then. We’ve accrued some more partners along the way, accrued and then let go of others, and still more we’ve accrued, but not really accrued.
It is our special-first-love partnership, however, that is an untouchable accrual, sealed forever, spanning from days when we would write cards to the parental unit as a tactic to secure a sleepover that night, to now, when we text each other to make plans, without consulting the P.U. at all.
Bella Lewis is an intern at The Star this summer.