By Mike Collins
July 3, 1969, Tony went diving for his canoe. He suspected it had been sunk by a friend as a prank. While he dived over and over, there at the Vacation Beach dam, I sat on the car bridge and talked to him about girls, Blood, Sweat and Tears, and him wasting his money on a forty-five copy of “Sugar, Sugar” instead of buying fireworks when we stopped in Santa Rosa on the way up the river. Tony was 14 a few weeks before, and I would be 12 at the end of the month. Tony was my brother, and we fought like brothers. We took each other's side like brothers. After a while my friend Brad came by and we started to talk, and after a while he asked where Tony was. I said, "Shit, I don't know, I hope he drowned". We waited another minute or so, and we both started to freak out, because Tony still hadn't come up.
Brad went running to get my dad, and I jumped in and started diving for Tony. My dad showed up, got me out of the water and started to dive himself. After a time the Fire Department and Sheriff's divers came, and a lot of time passed.
My dad was never quite whole after that day. I mentioned to my wife Rosemary that I thought it odd that he and I never, not once, spoke of that evening and what we felt and thought at that time. We spoke a lot about the holes in our lives, but never about that evening. I don't think about it much either, except on July 3. And all these years later I still call my boys about ten times a day on July 3, and worry about something over which I have never had any control.
Rosie and I went to the Marin County Fair this July 3. I've been wanting to go over the bridge and to the dam again, but that's something Rosie can't do with me. I think I understand. Other people's ghosts are too sad for most of us, even if they don't have that effect on the ghosts' owners. So we went to the fair instead. We wanted to see the sheep dog trials. We really are a couple of rednecks down deep.
The dogs come out with their handler—you don't "handle" a sheep dog. You team up with them at best; they run the show at worst. These pooches have a lot of energy and are smiling the whole time. They love their jobs. Some of them, when given the green light to bring the three sheep to the first gate, are all energy and go crazy, making a beeline to their angle on the sheep. They move so quickly and with such energy, they dominate the sheep immediately and get the sheep to move as soon as they do. They can run the sheep all over the place, but getting them to go, together, through a narrow gate is tough. Because the dogs have so much presence, they barely move and the sheep are running scared. Some dogs get frustrated and nip at the sheep's heels or bellies.
Then out comes one, with a handler that gives the dog direction as if she is simply passing on intelligence about best angles. The dog does the real thinking. The dog is all awareness, and never lets her energy get the best of her or the sheep. She walks, almost creeps, the sheep towards the gate, and never lets the sheep get spooked or believe they really have any other options. They don't notice that she is close enough to be in complete control. And when it is all over, she happily, and at a distance that seems to calm the sheep, walks them back to the holding pens.
Rosie and I spent the day enjoying a fair like the ones we used to go to, eating and watching the animal shows, listening to some pretty good music. We were like two little kids who would go home, whine about our stomachaches, and dream about dogs and horses. There were fireworks as soon as dark took over.
That was this July 3. Same memories. Same ghosts. But no trip over the bridge, no going to the dam again. And still no knowing my dad's memories, his ghosts.
Landmarks? Tomorrow Rosie and I celebrate 25 years of marriage. We're both taking the day off work so we can hang out together. Maybe go to the beach or something. Mostly just be. Together.
At his 50th wedding anniversary, just a week before he died, my dad gave me the secret to a long marriage. He said, "Don't divorce, and don't die." I swear to God.
I heard that in 1992. I suspect he'd heard it somewhere.
Mike Collins was born in San Francisco
in July of 1957. As of now, as he
Photo "Underwater" courtesy of Lachlan Taylor, Melbourne, Australia.
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