Myrtle Beach 2003
The salty air at Myrtle Beach was thick with cigarette smoke and country music. People were stitched together so tightly that the numerous towels stretched out looked like an old quilt. Empty bags of Doritos littered the sand beside small children sipping on red dye #40.
As I pulled down the bill of my baseball cap, a young girl caught my eye. Her face was deformed, and her eyes were disproportionate. The left one sagged like melted candle wax down her cheek causing her bright pink, star shaped sunglasses to be crooked and uncertain. Her hair was stringy and body ungainly as she sat propped between two sand pails of sea water. She could not get to the ocean, because her legs were useless and awkwardly tucked underneath her body like a foal not ready to stand, so someone must have brought it to her. Her hands splashed in jerky, graceless motions, and she cooed with delight as it danced and jumped out of the yellow buckets.
A woman came up and gently pushed her sunglasses back onto her face. A fruitless effort, I thought. She bent down, and I overheard her convincingly tell the little girl how much she looked like a movie star. The child grunted and snorted excitedly as she bobbed up and down thrilled with the idea herself. I was stunned and moved by their loving rapport. Then the woman slowly kissed the child’s forehead, sat down, and picked up her tattered paperback.
Twenty minutes later, a man came up. He had been in the ocean and shook his wet head to sprinkle water all over the child. She burst open with shock and delight. She spoke for the first time and slurred, “Dar, Dar!!” The man scooped her up as her limp limbs dangled from his arms. “That’s right, Kayla, it’s Dar Dar. Ready to have some fun?” he asked. She flailed about in response with a big crooked grin of gnarled teeth, and I watched him take her down to the water’s edge for a dip. He cradled her in the surf for an hour.
As we packed up at the end of the day, I took one last parting glance at Kayla’s family. I was sad to leave their company. Kayla was having a snack of mashed peas out of a baby food jar. I went over to her mother as she spoon fed her child and said, “Excuse me. I just wanted to say that I think you have a beautiful daughter.” She looked up at me blankly as if I broke her concentration. She then smiled and responded, “Oh, I know.”