The smell of freshly brewed coffee lures me out of bed. I pour a cup, grab my wedding magazine, and walk outside to join Ken’s grandfather, Mr. Hamilton, on the porch. I sit down next to him on a handmade porch swing. I turn my head in the direction that he is looking and see a tall, broad shouldered, tanned man wearing a faded blue swimsuit. He is standing along the shoreline while the waves collide with his ankles. There is a blue board beside him, held up by his muscular arm.
“Ken was an amazing surfer. I wish he would give the waves a try again. His accident has scared him from returning to his passion, but I think if he went out there, everything would come back to him and he could take any wave that came his way.” Mr. Hamilton’s voice brings me back to reality. I try to concentrate on the conversation.
Mr. Hamilton shares Ken’s adventures of surfing. He starts with Ken’s first wave and hesitates at the tragic part: Ken’s accident. Mr. Hamilton’s eyes tear up, and I squeeze his hand.
“It’s okay, Mr. Hamilton, Ken has already told me about it. I’ve read the articles. You don’t need to share this part.” I give him a soft smile.
He puts his hand up in objection, “No, no, no. You don’t know the real story. I must share this with you.”
I sit back on the porch swing nod for him to go ahead. I look through the railing poles to observe Ken’s figure as I listen to Mr. Hamilton’s story of the accident.
“He took a magnificent wave. As he was about to escape from the billow, the lip of the wave slammed his head, knocking him off his board. The strength of the wave enveloped him and drove him head first into the coral reef. The lifeguards ran out to help him. When they brought his unconscious body out of the water,blood streaming out of his head from the gash, I never thought he would live.” Mr. Hamilton pauses to take a deep breath. “I thought Ken was dead.” His eyes shimmer with tears. I twist my engagement ring and thank God for Ken’s life.
I wish Ken never had to experience this part of his life. It ruined his fearlessness and left him with horrible symptoms that come and go. I think about the month after the accident--sometimes he couldn’t remember my name. He’s always tired now. He used to be the first one out of bed each morning, brewing the first batch of coffee. Now he naps during the day to try to fight off the fatigue and confusion that hits him by afternoon.
“He used to be brave and excited for where life would take him,” Mr. Hamilton adds, “but the accident ruined that. I believe if he swims out and takes a wave, he will remember his journey and all his success, all the medals he won.”
“Well, I think today might be the day,” I say, stretching my hand out to him to help him up. We walk towards the railing and Mr. Hamilton squeezes my hand in excitement. He can now see Ken swimming out into the ocean.
“Do you know why his parents named him Ken?” Mr. Hamilton asks while we wait for Ken to find the right wave.
“No, why?” I ask, eager to hear the story.
“Because ‘Ken’ means clear water. My daughter thought that it would be a perfect name for her baby boy. From the day he was born I could see it in his eyes, he had so much potential to be a great surfer. He could conquer any water he wanted to.” Mr. Hamilton smiles, his eyes glowing.
Ken floats in the water, the sun kissing his skin, and Mr. Hamilton keeps talking, about the Triple Crown, about the Mavericks Big Wave Surf, which he won at just seventeen.
As Mr. Hamilton continues his praise, I stare out at the ocean and notice a different movement in Ken. He’s sitting broadly on the board. I watch him shift his body, open his arms, and start swimming. Then I notice the large wave that he is trying to catch.
Ken turns his muscular body around, facing inland, and starts to swim toward us. Mr. Hamilton points out toward Ken and we descend the porch stairs to move closer, onto the sand.
“He’s going to do it!” Mr. Hamilton exclaims.
Ken swims faster and faster. He embarks on the wave, stands on his board, and sails through the barrel with a familiar confidence and control. Mr. Hamilton is ecstatic. My heart swells with pride for Ken, and I realize that this is the day that will change our lives forever. A feeling of relief washes over me. We can stop dwelling on the past and move on with our lives.
Ken clears the wave and throws a fist up in the air as he hollers in excitement. As he celebrates his victory, I notice his body rocking back and forth on the board. He slumps forward. My body tenses.
Ken falls sideways off his board into the waves. A lifeguard runs into the water, calling for others to help. I break away from Mr. Hamilton and run, burning the soles of my feet, and throw myself into the water. The waves splash over my head, making it difficult to reach Ken.
A large man pulls me out of an overpowering wave as it pushes me down. He carries me out and sets me on the shore. I look up and see a lifeguard’s bronzed, stern face looking down on me.
“Leave it to the professionals,” the man says in a deep southern accent.
He grips my arm so I can’t return to the ocean. His fingers dig into my sunburned skin, and I try to escape when he lightens his hold. Over and over again he stops me, and tells me to stay on the shore.
“Let me go!” I seethe, but in return he pushes me down on my knees. I am helpless on the scalding sand.
A few minutes later, I feel a tap on my shoulder. I look up and see Mr. Hamilton pointing toward a figure in the ocean. It gets closer and closer. Now it is so close to me that I can touch it. It’s Ken.
Written by: Kimberly Kupres
Photograph by: Blake Bronstad