Michael John Sullivan: What the beach means to me

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MichaelI remember the first time my mom took me to the beach. It was in Rockaways in Queens, New York and when I looked out from the boardwalk, everything seemed so vast and big. At first I hesitated as my mom tried to pull my hand. I couldn’t have been more than three and half feet tall.

Eventually, my mother bribed me with an ice cream pop to motivate me to join her near the water’s edge. I recall her leaning down and looking me square in the eye. “Michael, don’t be afraid. It’s just water.”

“But…Mommy…the water is this high…” I stretched my arm as high as I could reach over my head.

“Well, that’s when you can swim underwater.”

“Underwater?”

“Yes,  sweetie. It’s fun to swim underwater. Even your older sister does it. Look, she’s in the water. See how much fun it is.”

I took a big breath and sighed. Well, if my big sister was doing it, so could I. So I let go of her hand and gingerly moved my feet in the direction of the waves. The wind was brisk and there was some giddy up to the ocean that day.

I looked back at my mom and she was smiling. “Go ahead,” she shouted.

I nodded and took a few more steps, the first wave bouncing off my knees. I remember feeling the cold sensation of ocean water for the first time in my life. It was both scary and exhilarating, much like how I feel now on the days when my novels officially release.

The waves got bigger as I moved forward. I could hear my sister behind me saying, “Where are you going?”

I ignored her. I was a boy. She was a girl. Boys could do things better than girls. I was going to prove this theory right now so I could brag to all my friends in the neighborhood. I took three giant steps and I looked back.

My mom waved and my sister was shouting…something. I couldn’t decipher it because the wind picked up and plugged my ears. I waved back to my mom and stuck my tongue out at my older sister. I noticed she was pointing ahead so I turned.

And I stared. The wave continued to climb. And climb. And climb. I swear it touched the sky.

I remember recalling this precise moment years later when I saw the movie, The Perfect Storm. You know the scene where the tiny boat is being pulled up on that incredible, giant wave?

Okay, it wasn’t that big. But for a puny runt like me at the age of six, any wave taller than my physical presence was going to flood my body with panic.

I don’t remember anything after that until my mom was looking down at me, on her knees, slapping my face. “Are you all right, Michael? Talk to me.”

My eyes were blurry and I was coughing up sea water. Yuck was the only thought I had right then. I must have swallowed half the ocean that day.

“I’m okay.” I would have cried then but my older sister was watching. She actually looked concerned too. Usually, she’d laugh. And she was a girl. I would never let a girl see me cry.

I got up and spit out some more ocean water. I can still feel it flooding my lungs. I wanted to run home but knew my sister would tease me for ruining the day. So, I did what any little boy who just got walloped by a giant wave would do – I turned back toward the ocean and ran toward another wave.

I crashed through it and raised my hands.

I looked back at my mom and she smiled.

“I did it!” I shouted.

I could see my sister saying something to my mother. If I could read lips, I would bet she said, “He’s so stupid.”

Well, yes, I was.

But sometimes you need to be stupid to learn the first lesson in life – when you fall, get up, and try again. The reward is even richer the second time around.

This works in every part of life. Wouldn’t you agree?

Michael John Sullivan is a nationally bestselling author. You can learn more about him and his books at our website.

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On December 8, 2014
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