Across the Pool
On the south side of the Village of Westhampton Beach a narrow barrier island runs from the Moriches Inlet where TWA 800 exploded in 1996 to the Shinnecock Inlet where a cluster of small fishing boats of the sort the late Peter Matthiessen wrote about (Men’s Lives) are moored. Dune Road runs the length of the barrier island. Directly across a small drawbridge that joins the barrier island to the mainland is the Swordfish Club, a family-owned beach club which, according to Village historian Beatrice Rogers, has existed since 1913. I learned to swim at Swordfish when I was very young and, years later, taught my two children. My fondest childhood memories are of the times I have spent there.
One enters Swordfish from Dune Road beneath a large wooden swordfish painted in the signature turquoise color that has trimmed the Club for as long as anyone can remember. An old concrete swimming pool built into the dunes is the centerpiece of Swordfish. As soon as I enter, I can see a young boy sitting at the shallow end of the pool with his legs hanging in the water. His hands are pressed against the deck and his neck is craned forward. I can see the tension in his arms, ready to push him up and into the water as soon as the lifeguard on his elevated seat blows his whistle to signify the end of “adult hour.” Even at this distance—the swimming pool is one-hundred twenty feet long—I can see the expression on the young boy’s face, his anticipation of the moment of ecstasy about to arrive. I know precisely what he is feeling. I once sat where he is sitting, exuberant and carefree as only a child can be.
The young boy about to spring from his poolside perch will think about these moments in a few hours when he walks with his family to the parking lot to make the short drive across the drawbridge to his family’s summer’s house. He will think about these moments when he eats dinner—pizza or spaghetti, he hopes—and when he goes to bed this evening. And he will think about these moments years from now, when, perhaps, he will be living alone in a hotel room in Boston, waking early to do work and review medical bills, spending days in surgical garb in his wife’s hospital room where she is receiving a bone marrow transplant, eating in a hotel restaurant where weary wait staff are trying to close, calling home to speak with his children, and trying to get a few hours’ fitful sleep. At such a time, the young boy will withdraw his memories of these moments, unwrap them like precious keepsakes stored in a treasure box, and hold fast to them to steady himself.
At precisely three o’clock the lifeguard blows his whistle and the young boy is liberated at last. I can see him splash into the pool and join other children in a game of Marco Polo. I can see the excitement on his face. For an instant, the distance between us and the years that separate us vanish and I am one with him. I can feel what he is feeling, the unmitigated joy of childhood that carries us through the rest of our lives. It will be decades before the young boy understands the full import of these special moments.
My reverie watching the young boy at the other end of the swimming pool must end now. I have an appointment and obligations to fulfill. As I turn to leave the Swordfish Club I steal one more glance across the pool. There is a splendid unity before me: the ocean, the dunes, the seabirds overhead, the old beach club that occupies a patch of land on the barrier island and a young boy I have known and will always know.