Child Of The Night 

Judith Issette

© Copyright 2002 by Judith Issette


Photo of Jeff, now grown up and in Kuwait.

The word "vacation" was never in our budget for many years. We were too busy struggling with the
every day living of paying the bills and raising two babies. It was a fantasy, which was dreamed about
on a sunny day or a lazy afternoon when the babies were taking a nap, and only then was there time to envision a place without endless diapers and babies crying "mama."

Someone out there must have recognized my need for a vacation and granted the wish I had thought about for so long. It was a trip to the beach, and a chance to escape the every day demands of being a young mother. Oh, I can hear the thoughts at this point, which are, "She's going to get a trip to the Bahamas," or "Hey, she's going to Florida for a week." I’m afraid it was nothing that romantic or fine. It was simply going to be a long weekend trip to the Texas gulf.

There would be no room service or fine dining, we were going to pitch a tent on the beach and cook over a fire. Even though some might be saying, “what a bummer,” believe me it sounded like pure Heaven to me. To see something different besides the endless laundry and dirty dishes was a real treat to me. Of course, my sweet babies would be accompanying me as well as my husband, my aunt and my favorite uncle. It was almost a caravan of cars when we pulled out to head for the coast. There were three cars full of tents and endless coolers full of drinks and food as well as two kids, one teenager and a dog. We were a sight to see with smiles on our faces and hopes of sunny days with wild surfs when we headed out to the white beaches of Padre Island.

The trip was long and hard, and after several pit stops and twelve hours of driving, we finally arrived on the sunny beaches of Padre Island. It was breath taking to see the white sands of the beach, the white-capped waves lazily rolling in, and the salt smell, which was invigorating to the inner soul. The whole beach scene beckoned one to relax and enjoy nature at it’s finest.

The first couple of hours were full of setting up the camp. Tents were pitched, food coolers were unloaded and campfires were made for the coming evening of relaxation. We planned to have a nice dinner and watch the stars for a while before turning in for the night. Of course, one could not be so close to the water and not partake of its cool pleasure, especially in the heat of a Texas summer. So, the bathing suits and suntan lotion appeared, and it was off to splash and play in the waves.

The waves were not a new experience for me, but it certainly was for my two and three year old sons. As I tried to entice them into the water, they would simply stand on the edge and shake their heads, no. It never occurred to me they would be afraid of the water, but they would have no part of it. Perhaps it was the vastness of the water, or the loud threatening sounds of the waves crashing on to the beach that fed their fears. Whatever their fears and reasoning, they were definitely not swimming with mom that day. They were perfectly happy to dig in the sand with their little red shovels and sand pails for the rest of the day. Of course, a mother’s eye was constantly watching them to make sure they didn’t stray too far.

So, the day ended with a good meal of ham sandwiches and lots of laughter around the fire that night. The evening was wonderful while we took in the sounds of the waves crashing methodically on to the shore, the blackness of the night with only the stars to light the sky, and the salt breeze that constantly whipped around our bodies with a cool embrace. It had been a hard day of driving, and we were all ready to hit the cots that were waiting for us in the tents. That first night, I cuddled up and welcomed sleep with a smile of a dream come true for the mother of two.

The morning brought another day of fun in the sand for the family. We took long walks on the beach and hunted for the treasures of the ocean on the wet beach. The kids loved looking for the tiny shells and finding just that right one to present to mom. They ran from the little land crabs and screamed with delight when they thought one had touched their little foot or toe. It was a wonderful day of a family playing together like the children we all are.

Most of the day was great, but the winds seemed to be picking up in the evening. It seemed there was a small gale blowing in and that meant a rough night for all. We ate our dinner that night while trying to keep the sand out of our plates. And then, we finally had to retreat to our tents at an early hour due to the strong winds. We could hear the rain begin to pelt the tents like bullets and the winds howling stronger and stronger. The storm was beginning to brew up a fear inside me that perhaps the tent might blow away and here I was with two babies to protect. However, we finally fell asleep with exhaustion somewhere in the wee hours of the morning when the storm began to calm. Needless to say, the tent held it’s ground and we came out of the storm safely.

After a morning of continued strong winds, they finally settled into a pleasant gentle breeze, which brought back a playful attitude for everyone. The kids played with the dog and my little teenage cousin flirted with all the girls in their bikinis. The men went fishing and us woman hung out on the beach sunning our bodies to a toasty brown. All in all, it was a great day. It was just what a tired mother needed to rejuvenate her spirit. Little did she know that the day would almost end in tragedy.

They say nightmares only begin in our sleep, but my nightmare began while I was wide-awake. One, which I thought could only end in heart ripping grief. It all began with the family sitting around the fire that night. We were laughing and telling the usual tall tales Texans are known for.

Suddenly, my husband stood up and said, “I’m going to take a little walk out into the dunes. Be back in a minute.”

Well, we all knew what that meant, and I watched him walk off with our little three-year-old son walking behind him. I’m never forget that moment. My little tow-headed baby was wearing his dad’s T-shirt, which swallowed him and drug the ground when he walked. I calmly watched him follow his dad into the blackness of the night. A black so black you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face.

About twenty minutes later, my husband came back up to the fire and was standing there listening to my uncle as he was telling a story. I looked for our son, but he was nowhere to be seen.

Panic struck my heart like a bolt of lightening and I quickly and frantically asked, “Where’s Jeff?”

My husband looked puzzled and said, “Isn’t he with you? I haven’t seen him.”

The fear came up from the soles of my feet, and then rose to stick in my throat. It seemed like an eternity before I could say, “He was with you when you went to the bathroom. I thought you saw him and was taking him with you. Oh, my God! Where is he?”

Someone’s voice seemed to be yelling with fear, and soon I recognized it as my own. I was frantic. Everyone seemed to jump up at the same time. I was holding my two-year baby in my arms when I started screaming Jeff’s name over and over, but there was no answer. We all went in different directions screaming our son’s name over and over, but soon we found it was useless. Even with flashlights, one could not see well enough on the pitch-dark beaches to see a small child. Panic was beginning to creep into all of us as we ran around screaming his name.

Fellow campers soon heard and began searching also. You cold see the glow of the lanterns and flashlights moving about the beach. I finally went back to the camp since I had no flashlight and could see nothing.

The dreaded question was finally asked, “Do you think your son could have gone toward the water?”

I knew in my heart that Jeff would have never gone into the water, he was too afraid of the waves and the noise. I hoped and prayed to God that his fear kept him safe from that dark, beckoning ocean before me, but a small doubt nagged at my heart.

My husband finally returned to the camp after about thirty minutes of searching. He looked scared and beaten. He knew it was hopeless to keep searching with the blackness of the night and the vastness of the dunes. He was headed to the Coast Guard to call out the helicopters with their huge searchlights.

With that act of defeat, the tears finally matched my fears and flooded down my cheeks. My fears for my child were almost overwhelming. I knew he was lost and afraid in the dark. I knew there were all kinds of creatures coming out on the hot sand at night. Scorpions, snakes, and large crabs were just a few of the creatures that flooded the beaches at night, especially in the dunes. The beckoning call of the ocean was a thought that caused my heart to simply stand still. And my worst fear was someone of unkind character finding him before we did. Every horrid scenario in the world seemed to pass through my mind in those next few minutes while we waited on the Coast Guard.

By some miracle, an enlightening thought came to my uncle. Here they had this beautiful Siberian husky who just might be able to track my little boy. Taking a chance, he let him smell of a little T-shirt Jeff had been wearing earlier in the day. The dog took the scent and started running out in the blackness of the dunes with my uncle right behind him. Finally, I could hear Brutus barking and raising cane after a few endless moments. Then, the barking stopped suddenly. My body froze with anticipation while I waited for the news, be it bad or good.

I stared into the blackness and tried to see if my uncle was coming back. Suddenly, he appeared through that dark veil of darkness, and was carrying my tearful little boy in his arms. Jeff seemed like a little angel with his blonde hair and white night gown flowing over his legs. It was plain to see he had been scared out of his wits for the last two hours. They were hours that were as much an eternity to him as they were to me.

Feeling my son in my arms again was like having my spirit come alive. I was complete and all was well again. He clung to me with his fear and the relief of being found, and I clung to him with that same love and relief. He was exhausted from his traumatic ordeal, so I rocked him to sleep while my uncle went to inform the others of his being found. Thank goodness, we were able to notify the Coast Guard before the helicopters lifted off. The last person to know the good news was my husband and relief was in his eyes.

My uncle later told me how his dog went straight to Jeff. He found him sitting in a little hole crying his eyes out while he called for his daddy.

When Jeff saw Brutus and my uncle, he looked up and asked, “Where’s my daddy? I lost my daddy.”

My uncle asked him where he was headed and Jeff tearfully answered, “Toward the lights, Uncle Sammy.”

Toward the lights could have been the end for my son if he had made it to his destination. The lights he was headed for was the busy interstate highway that ran along the beach. And he was only a few yards from them at that point. Who could have seen a small child walk out of the dunes and on to a highway? And could they have stopped in time? The answer to that question was never known, thank God. In his child’s mind, Jeff thought he was walking in the direction of the campfire after he lost his daddy. I thank God, and the guardian angel that was watching over my little son that dark night. By the grace of God, my son was spared from the deadly dangers, which were all around him.

Needless to say, the beach lost its charm after that night and we couldn’t leave it’s gracious shores quickly enough. We packed our car the next morning and headed out for home. Suddenly, those dirty diapers and dishes didn’t sound so bad. In fact, I was delighted to have the opportunity to be a part of that dreary little world I had created for myself. It was our home and a safe haven for my children. It was our palace, even if it didn’t have the magic of the seashore and all it promised.

Some vacations are memorable experiences and some are not. My fantasy almost became my worse nightmare, so now I am very careful in what I yearn for in a vacation. Over the years, I have found that one doesn’t have to leave the home to find joy in nature and family. We only have to look out the window and see the trees swaying in the gentle breeze of the day, or watch the sunset in the orange glow of the evening to know beauty and feel relaxed. We don’t need the sound of the ocean to feel serenity and joy. All we need is the laughter of our children. Real peace comes when we listen to their squeals of delight as they explore their world and learn of it’s wonder.

Vacations? Maybe, someday, but never with the hope of escaping my life as before, a life filled with tearful babies, peals of laughter, sleepy eyes and little smiles. They are all the world I need to see right now, and I thank God for that wonderful privilege.

Thank you, God, for delivering my “Child of the Night.”

I am a retired registered nurse now living in North Carolina with my husband and little dog, Toby. I love to write all types of  fiction and nonfiction stories. I also write poems mostly about my memories of yesterday.

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