The boy had a diver’s mask with an orange-tinted plastic lens, and sometimes he would surface from beneath the waters of the pool to look at his older sister and her boyfriend Larry, who was going to be a real Navy frogman as soon as he got out of high school. The boy wanted to be a frogman too, and he took it as a sign from God that Larry and his sister would get married since they both liked scuba diving.
He wanted to be a diver because you didn’t have to talk for the job; you took an easel and a grease pencil below the water with you, and if you had something to say to your partner like, “I’m almost out of air,” you wrote it and showed it to him. If it was something really important, like, “Look out there’s a barracuda” that you didn’t have time to write out, you were supposed to use sign language.
The boy was pretty sure Larry liked him; at least he acted like it when they were at the pool together. Larry would take the boy’s foot in his hands and flip him over backwards in the water, or they’d play sharks and minnows until the lifeguards made them stop because you weren’t supposed to swim in front of the diving boards.
Larry dropped out of school as soon as he was old enough to go into the Navy, and when his mom told his dad about it, he said, “Good riddance” as he opened up the mail–his sister wasn’t within earshot. The boy didn’t know why his dad didn’t like Larry–after all, going into the Navy meant he was serving his country.
His sister dated other boys after Larry left–she was popular, so it wasn’t like Larry had broken her heart by leaving or anything. The boy didn’t find it as easy to talk to the new boyfriends as Larry, though. With Larry, you could go underwater and look at each other and with just a nod of the head or a glance or a gesture you’d know what he meant, you didn’t have to talk–that’s the way frogmen were with each other.
Then one day he was watching Teen Town on TV and who should reappear but Larry, back from basic training. His duck tail was gone and he had a crew cut. He looked skinnier in the face and arms and the boy figured it was because of all the swimming he had to do. The DJ made a big deal out of interviewing Larry as he sat on the bleachers where the kids went when the music stopped playing, and the boy’s sister was sitting beside him. He had a tattoo on his arm now where he didn’t before.
For the most part Larry seemed the same but he was more modest, a little less cocky. The boy had read about Marine boot camp, which he had heard was the hardest of all the armed forces, and wondered if he’d ever be able to make it into the service. He did fifty push-ups every morning and every night and wondered if he should be doing more.
When his sister got home from Teen Town, his mother spoke to her for a while in a low voice. He could hear something about Larry and was he in town long, and was that him in the car that she drove up in. He heard his sister talking back to his mother, and not apologetically, either. She was old enough to go out with somebody in the Navy if she wanted to, his sister said, and if was none of her mother’s business. Then she went up to her room and closed the door behind her.
When his dad got home he said hi to the boy cheerfully enough, but then when he went to the kitchen to get a beer the boy heard him talking quietly to his mother.
He heard his father go upstairs and knock on his sister’s door and then open and close it. He heard a “daddy” and then his father’s voice, under control at first, then slowly rising, as if it were a pot on the stove starting to boil.
“I don’t care,” he heard his sister say, and then his dad saying louder “Well, I do,” and then something more, muffled again so that he couldn’t make it out.
He thought he knew what made a frogman so attractive to her. When he was at the pool he would dive underwater and look at the girls’ swimming suits, and they knew what he had done when he came up for air. If the girl smiled at you that meant she like you. He guessed his sister liked Larry like that.
He wanted to tell his dad that it was okay to be a frogman even if it was dangerous, but he knew if he tried to talk, it would come out sounding stupid if it came out at all, and if it did his father would tell him it was none of his concern. It would be like trying to talk underwater, where you couldn’t talk at all.
Navy combat divers photo by U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Zach Hernandez [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.