I grew up in a littoral zone. On a sandbar, really—my favorite brother loved to describe at dusk while we lingered in the bath-warm sloughs of our white-sand beach, how just like the bar a scant fifty feet away, the land our concrete block home rested on had been a sandbar. As perhaps my cautious brother intended, this made me think not about our great good fortune but about the nature of God and the caprices of the sea. About stability or in-; about preparing for the worst while living with the best. These days, my husband I live on the mainland. We can’t afford what is called, here, Beachside, or even Causeway—of which there are two. The North, a natural series of two older bars with low condominiums and businesses and the shell of the high school I attended, out in the midst of one of the last remaining mangrove swamps in Florida; and the South—which in the summer of my sixth year I remember sweating, black and white pajamaed convicts, chained-together and guarded by a tan uniformed, shotgun toting guard, building as a lead to the new second bridge to the island. The island of New Smyrna Beach is still unique in a number of ways. She—I always think of an island, a boat, a hurricane as she—lies like a woman on her side, Mother’s house smack in the middle of a waist so narrow a strong arm could throw a baseball from the front yard west into the river, or east into the sea. Two miles north of the house lies Ponce Inlet. All through my childhood, my father assured me we’d never become a suburb of Daytona thanks to that Inlet. He said that a bridge breaching it would take up several miles of valuable property he and other homeowners would never relinquish, and have to be too high to be funded or approved. I believed him. Ponce Inlet is and always was treacherous. Stephen Crane wrote about it in his famous short story The Open Boat, which begins with the deliciously well-crafted line, None of them knew the color of the sky. Any mariner, mariner’s child, or island dweller would understand that instantly: they were so busy they could not look up. Literally. At the north end of the island, at the inlet, is a lovely park owned by the county which has a three-mile elevated walkway, wooden, with benches here and there, distance markers for the health-conscious, a tower to observe the boat traffic and surfers near the jetty, a few pavilions with little hibachis. Although the flora and fauna are protected, the beach which circles from Coast Guard Station on the river side to jetty into the Atlantic is a dog beach, and people fish and sun and sometimes swim. Recreational boaters crowd the shore on sunny days. Far too many people view this natural, protected zone as a playground. When I was a child this area was completely unregulated, and as a teenager I attended many a lifeguard party with bonfires, guitars, and tired, sandy surfers in the deep bowls between dunes anchored by sea oats. Twenty miles south there is a wonderful National Park, a seashore, which extends into the protected waters of Cape Kennedy, where for twenty-nine years my father designed rockets. When he first arrived, there was not a building taller than three stories in New Smyrna Beach. That was the quaint Holiday Cove South, the first vacation condominium. That was 1966. I was three years old. We had one small grocery store on the island, Hathaway’s, where our meat was wrapped in brown paper and tied with string, you had to reach deep into a cooler for an orange creamsickle bar, and supplies were meager when the bridge was “out”—stuck open due to mechanical failure or, more often, a storm. Then, we foretold storms by the behavior of birds, dogs, snakes, and humans. Our bodies were more reliable barometers than the gauges nailed outside the screen doors of our favorite bait shacks. Now, Hathaway’s is Clancy’s Cantina, where my sixteen-year old -busses tables; there are over forty towering condominiums strung along the twenty-two mile beach; the South bridge is a high-rise for the convenience of tourists and O-towns—what the local kids derisively call weekenders from Orlando, and whom they often physically fight with in the line-up at the Inlet. The line-up is the complex hierarchy of surfers vying for the world-famous peaks just south of New Smyrna’s jetty. The Inlet is the shark bite capitol of the world. No kidding. But, despite development, influx of tourists (respectful and un-), ruthlessly aggressive realtors from out of town or out of state who keep trying to make New Smyrna Beach something other than what it is, and aggressive attempts on the part of rich corporate dragons who’ve successfully raped and pillaged Port Orange, Daytona’s suburb to our north; my father’s axiom has so far proven true—we aren’t a suburb yet. And, importantly, critically, heartbreakingly, we are still under the glitz and appeal of a small beach town, a littoral zone. A treacherous one. The first thing Mother demanded when we moved here was that all five of her children learn to swim immediately. I was three. My brother and sister who came along later learned very early, too. I loved to swim and was good at it. I don’t do it as often as I should, now, but as a child it was part of my daily—sometimes hourly—routine. The ocean was considered a cure for everything from the grumps to a stinging-nettle sting to a scratch to a cold. If we complained, Mother sent us for a swim. If we were bored, we went bodysurfing or surfing. If we were sick, we tried the ocean before making the trek to the mainland to see Dr. Carver. But this was the caveat: always, always, swim in pairs. This was the ironclad rule and we never questioned it. There was a notepad on the table, and if you were at the beach, the name of the brother or the best friend or the boyfriend you were with was listed there, along with an estimate of when you’d return, or Mother would do that most-mortifying-of-all-Mother-behaviors, driving down to the water in the station wagon (NSB is a drive-on beach) and pounding on the horn to get you out of the water. One of the first things every child in NSB learns to do is hydrate. That comes along with swimming. A lack of water in the body can lead to a dangerous lethargy of or even failure of synapses to jump, with possibly disastrous results. You drink, drink, drink when you are in the sun. These days, sunscreen is also critical. As kids, we didn’t have to worry about that. Nowadays, one has to worry more about running over a child on the beach than one drowning. The beach is much more crowded than the water, but people tend to forget they are in both a town and a hostile, natural environment when they visit. With the baking sun, I.Q’s seem to drop. It takes a local driver ten minutes to navigate the half-mile span of road between the North Bridge and the Flagler beach approach down onto the sand. People walk right out into traffic, step while handing a dripping cone to their three-year-old, race to a sunburnt friend on the opposite sidewalk, without even glancing at traffic. Sated Otowns pull out of parking spaces next to Clancy’s and Trader’s Bar and Peanuts without checking mirrors. Disasters occur with alarming frequency, and tourists keep the local ER hopping, especially during Spring Break. But, locals should know better. It is our responsibility as local parents to teach them better. Than that. Mikel and I have four sons. Three of them are seasoned watermen, and between them we’ve had five shark bites. This is to be expected, here. Surfers in the water encounter sharks. Mikel, Jr. is twenty-eight, Sam is twenty, Jacob nineteen, and Jimmy sixteen. Mikel Jon, as we call him, Sam and Jimmy are amazing surfers. Mikel Jon went to college on a surfing scholarship and competed as a teenager nationally. Jimmy too is a competitor, Sam prefers to surf with his brothers and friends. All three have earned position as top local surfers in the line-up at the inlet, and understand and respect the complex etiquette required there to keep from getting your nose broken or your surfboard run over on the sand, or with you on it in the water. Jacob, too, surfs. But, he doesn’t have the passion—what I call the disease—his brothers do. He can take it or leave it, and he is competent, and on a slow day with small waves is perfectly able to surf the Inlet with his brothers and their friends. On a crowded, big day, he has to stay ashore or surf the beach break two miles south. That can be frustrating for a teenager. Especially an autistic one. I am an autism specialist with the State of Florida. I cover Volusia County, our county, and have close to eight hundred constituents. Jacob is not one of them; that would be a conflict of interest. Jacob’s CARD Coordinator (Center for Autism and Related Disabilities) is my boss, Dr. Teresa Daly. She’s based out of Orlando as I am, but covers Jacob as a special favor to me. Several years ago, I got a call from Terri telling me to get to Halifax Hospital as quickly as I could, but stop on the way for a big bag of Skittles and a Buzz Lightyear doll. She couldn’t make it before he was to be released, but her constituent Chris Marino and his father were leaving the hospital, and she was afraid the press would upset Chris. She wanted me to alleviate that with Skittles and Buzz, two of his restricted interests, and the help of the hospital staff if possible. When I arrived at the Pediatric Floor, Chris was in a wheelchair and ready to go, and being well-guarded by a competent Peds. staff. As soon as I identified myself, I was let through the locked door. I spoke with Chris’ mother, who was pleased that Dr. Daly sent me, and with staff, who assured me they had an escape plan for Chris which involved a back door and complete circumvention of the news vans and reporters waiting at the front. Satisfied, I turned to meet Chris. Skinny and sunburnt, Chris sat serenely in his wheelchair wearing a T-shirt and a pair of shorts. He was tall and skinny, about thirteen, and reminded me of Jacob. I’d fully expected a child much like Jacob—a smart, verbal young man who talked a bit like a textbook and got on better with adults than peers. One of the first things I noticed about Chris was that his legs and arms were laced with man-o-war stings. They looked like ropes of even-stitched, bright red embroidery thread wound around his limbs. I’d never seen that pervasive a pattern on a living child. The stings had obviously been treated—there was no swelling or sign of infection. He simply looked as if someone had put him through a giant, out of control sewing machine. As I spoke to Chris, Dr. Daly sent you these skittles, and Buzz, and at a nod from his mother opened the package and put a few colorful candies in his waiting palm, I noticed immediately with my practiced professional eye that this non- or limited-verbal child was like Jacob only on the outside. Chris was profoundly autistic. How had he survived overnight at sea? It would be several days before the entire story came out, and much of it never reached the news agencies. But, any way you slice it, Chris’ survival and that of his father were miracles. Chris Marino loves—and I mean loves in a way neurotypicals can never really understand— floating. He floats as a reward, floats as recreation, as pleasure. Whenever he’s allowed to. On the day Chris was swept out to sea, he and his father were at the lee side of the dog beach at the Inlet in New Smyrna. They were from Orlando, what my sons would call OTowns and Mikel and I as kids called OVilles (I guess our grandkids will call them Ocities), and apparently ventured into what looked like calm water near the Coast Guard Station in the river. No local would ever, ever, swim there—on an outgoing tide Mark Spitz himself would be swept out the Inlet, through the gauntlet between the jetties, and past Shark Shallows in a matter of minutes. If you didn’t get run over by boats, devoured by bull or tiger sharks, you’d be out at sea beyond the view of surfers and boaters and Coasties before your feeble cries could be heard. It was early afternoon when the Marinos were swept to sea. Nobody saw it happen. When family members contacted the Coasties, an all-night search began. Chris’ father was found around eight in the morning, by recreational boaters who weren’t part of the search; they were fishing but saw something glimmering out on the sea and went to investigate. It was the gold cross on Mr. Marino’s chest, flashing in the rising sun. He was floating on his back and hysterically worried about Chris. They’d drifted apart at dawn. Chris was found an hour later, floating. As he’d been taught to do. As he loved to do. They were eight miles out to sea. Before I got home from the hospital, Kevin Sweat, an old high school classmate now Chief of the Volusia County Beach Patrol, was on my cell asking me to do a training I’d proposed earlier that year. I felt that—as VCBP is a nationwide leader in equal access for those with differing abilities with the invention of the sand and water going beach wheelchair—it was only fitting that we at CARD train the Patrol in autism. After Chris’ miraculous rescue, our expert Dr. Kim Spence-Cochran and I trained the VCBP, posthaste. But, none of that could have saved Jacob. Because sometimes in a hostile, natural environment you have only yourself and God to depend on, no matter if your parents have given you all the training, and even given the local rescuers all the training, they can. Sometimes it is in the hands of forces outside of you. Or inside you, depending on what you believe. What you know. There was a hurricane swell, and our family was of course at the Inlet. Jimmy and Sam were in the water, tethered to their flimsy boards by leashes. Because the waves were double overheard, I for once didn’t have to insist on kook straps. They were needed unless the boys wanted to swim through heavy surf every time they lost their boards. And they would lose their boards. That was a given. Jacob was chaffing to get in the water from the time we drove up and parked. Sam and Jimmy both explained in various stages of patience why he just couldn’t, then rushed to make it to the outside, the biggest waves. As they’d done all their lives, they trusted us to keep Jacob safe. How little children know. Jacob was by this time 6’4”. He was eighteen, and the local magnet school he attended ran out of maths for him the year before. He’s brilliant, handsome, and about as safe as your average five year old when it comes to crossing traffic. In the water he’s better, but that water screamed experts only. And at the moment Jacob was hot, irritated by separation from his brothers and falling barometric pressure, and bored. Why can’t I swim? My husband merely pointed at the ocean and shrugged. Well, Jacob pointed to the raised walkway at the dunes park behind us, Can I at least go walk? I was distracted. Sam and Jimmy were in a truly life-threatening situation in the water. As I’d done the year before in Hawaii, I considered sending my lifeguard, paramedic, fifty-four-inch-shouldered husband out with a pair of swim fins to be close by, just in case. I nodded at Jacob. Drink a lot of water when you get to the bathrooms at the other end. There’s a fountain. Jacob had been circumnavigating the Dunes Park walkway his whole life. When he was small, still walking on tip-toes and flapping his hands, staring at the sky, it was the perfect place to come for family walks as he karoomed gently off the rails on the narrow walkway like a ping-pong ball. These days, the walk, with bathroom and drinking stops, should have taken twenty minutes, thirty at most. An hour and a half later I was completely frantic. Mikel was even getting nervous, an unusual occurrence. He was at the top of the stairs leading to the walkway and I was descending to alert the beach patrol, who would begin a search, when I saw a lanky form in blue baggies rounding the curve in the walkway, with Jacob’s unmistakable stork-like gait. I ran, sobbing, and hugged my soaking wet son. Where have you been? Oh, since you wouldn’t let me swim in the ocean, I went around and had a nice swim in the river. On, thank God, an incoming, hurricane tide.