When I go to the beach, I spend most of my time counting.
I watch everyone. I worry about someone drowning. Someone might not be watching someone they love. Just for a split second. Someone looks away and someone goes under. It won’t happen on my watch.
Because I watch.
My mother watched.
I must have been a lifeguard in a previous life. And my mother was a lifeguard in her previous life. Perhaps we have lifeguards going all the way back… my ancestor counting heads as Moses parted the Red Sea.
I like to read at the beach, but I stop after every two paragraphs and count. Where is the little boy with the striped bathing suit? Where is the girl with the blue bikini? Where is the old woman in the straw hat? The pale man with the hairy back?
Everybody will stay safe under my watch.
I count heads. Twenty-four now. Oh, that family is leaving, but here are two more families. Twenty-nine now. I count.
Okay. The little boy with the sailboats on his shorts has put on a sweatshirt. He’s here.
Ah, there’s Moses, my ancestor said. He’s safe.
When I was nine, my little brother wandered away at a relative’s lakeside cottage. My father thought he was with my mother. My mother thought he was with my father. Then they realized he was gone. And the lake was so big. I think that was the most frightened I ever saw my mother. She was terrified. My brother was found. He was safe. And still my mother cried.
She forgot for a moment to count.
And so I count.
There is the lady with the white sunglasses. If she takes them off, I must remember her hair. She has a braid. I won’t forget her.
There are the teenagers kissing. They will watch each other. But I will make sure. They could go under together.
Not on my watch.
Everyone will stay safe. The children on the shoreline, the brave ones in the water, the elderly under their umbrellas, the readers, the sleepers, the frisbee throwers.
I count people because people count.