As a native Rhode Islander, I grew up spending a lot of time by the ocean. Because archetypal vacations exceeded our family’s budget, my mother was determined to get us to a beach on a weekly basis. As a result of her commitment to this goal, I spent many summer afternoons riding waves at Newport Beach, in the Narragansett area, and at Horseneck Beach in nearby Westport, Massachusetts.
It was during these years that I gained a full and absolute respect for the power of the ocean. Many would think that someone with a lot of ocean experience might be inured to its lethal potential. For me, the opposite is true. I love the ocean, but I approach it as one approaches a hot stove.
It was perhaps for this reason that, in spite of my consistent attempts to bury my head in the sand regarding the relentless litany of car accidents, fires, police shootings, and missing or injured children that assault me through the local news media, there was one horrible news event reported this week that I can’t seem to shake: the one about the toddler who disappeared off Long Beach in Rockport on Thursday afternoon.
There are more than a few unanswered questions as to what happened to Caleigh as she stood on the water’s edge playing catch with her four-year-old sister, the family dog, and her mom. According to Boston Globe reports, the mother left the girls unattended for a brief moment to retrieve the ball which had blown away, and when she turned back, Caleigh was missing and her sister reports having seen nothing.
While divers have been searching the water since Thursday evening, a ground search has also been underway, as abduction has not been ruled out. All attempts to find Caleigh or to determine what happened to her have been, thus far, unsuccessful. If she were standing anywhere else but by the ocean, I would join the many followers of this heartbreaking story who are completely bewildered and utterly mystified by Caleigh’s vanishing act.
But this two year old was in fact standing by the ocean, which in terms of unpredictability, is right up there with standing next to a tiger or a rattlesnake. I can think of two scenarios where a child could be innocently standing by the ocean one second and no where to be found in the next second.
Rip tides are amazingly powerful. If Caleigh stumbled into a rip current, she could have been pulled out to sea in a matter of seconds. In fact, a swimmer of Michael Phelps’ ability could also be dragged out to sea instantaneously. They are that powerful; they are often deadly.
The secondly possibility is a rogue wave. I once got swiftly and completely relocated to the middle of the ocean by an immense wave that came out of nowhere, having just seconds earlier been standing on a set of breakwater rocks in Point Judith, Rhode Island. I had been standing between my brother and then fiancé Kevin, both of whom remarked that once the wave water had receded, they were stunned to see that I was absolutely nowhere to be found. It took only seconds for that wave to wash me clear into the sea, where I then struggled to stay calm enough to surface and swim to safety.
Had I been a child, I am positive I would not have survived the ordeal. As it is, I feel fortunate to have had gone a round with the ocean and lived to tell the tale.
As of this writing, no one seems to know what happened to little Caleigh as she played on the beach with her family. Along with so many others, I am fervently hoping for her safe return home.
But if it turns out the ocean has played a role in her mysterious disappearance, I won’t feign surprise.