~ or ~
“Guardian Angel or Just Plain Luck? You Decide”
A True Story.
I guess I was about twenty two or twenty three years old at the time. A bunch of us carefree pretty young things used to spend the summers hanging out at Pirates Cove, a popular nude beach at the bottom of a high cliff on the central coast of California near San Luis Obispo.
There was another beach right next to Pirates called Diamond Cove that was known as the “gay side”. It was a bit tricky to get to. We had to hike down the cliff on a steep trail, at one point crossing a narrow precipice about six feet long and just wide enough to put one foot in front of the other with nothing to hold onto and a sheer drop fifty feet down to the rocks on either side.
One afternoon I was there at Pirates Cove with a big group of friends, playing in the waves and lounging in the sun. At the edge of the crowd I noticed this incredibly beautiful young man whom I had never seen before. He couldn’t have been much older than nineteen or twenty. He had smooth bronzed skin, wide cheekbones, big soulful gold colored eyes and sensuous lips that curled into a sweet smile with gleaming, straight white teeth. He had long thick wavy blond hair. He was short and had a smallish, perfect body. Way out of my league, I remember thinking. Of course he was naked, we all were. It was a nude beach after all.
Later in the day I decided to go over to the gay side but I didn’t want to go by myself. I couldn’t get anyone interested in going with me and I was just about to go alone when Blond Boy looked at me and said “I’ll go with you Philip”. Now you might know that in those days, everyone called me Spike. To my knowledge there were only a few people in that group who knew my real name but I hadn’t seen any of them speak with the boy. I was a little curious as to how he knew my name was Philip but I didn’t give it much thought.
So off the two of us went, to the trail to the beach on the other side. I always had a white sheet to lie on in the sand and to wrap around me when I started to get too much sun. I had it draped across my shoulders and when we were half way along the precipice, a corner of the sheet caught under my foot and I lost my balance.
The gay beach was on the left side of the precipice down a switchback trail but I fell to the right, the side that dropped off down to a tiny little cove we had always thought of as inaccessible. I didn’t scream. I remember saying in a normal voice, “Oh no!”
Well, I realized that I couldn’t go back up so I may as well relax and accept whatever happened. I’ve read about how when people fall from a great height, they fall in slow motion and their whole life flashes before their eyes. I don’t know about that but I really did have the time to think about the situation and about my life and to decide that even though there were still a lot of things I wanted to do, it had been a good life and it was okay if it ended now, especially since I didn’t seem to have any choice in the matter. I guess what really happened is that my thoughts sped up so fast that it seemed like a lot of time had passed before I hit the ground, fifty feet below.
Since I had accepted the seemingly inevitable outcome of the fall, my body was completely relaxed and I didn’t try to fight it by flailing my limbs. I was limp when I hit the big flat rock at the bottom. I landed face up and with my body in an arch; first on my right hand and my left foot simultaneously; with my head, my hips, my back and my shoulders settling down to the ground, maybe a second after the initial impact. I could see the white sheet billowing in the air as it fell above me.
Blond Boy had been behind me on the trail. I remember looking up right after I landed and in my mind I can still see him coming down the sheer side of that cliff. I can only describe it as scampering. He had both arms in the air and his little bare feet were only very lightly touching the nearly straight wall of the cliff as he came quickly down. His long golden hair was flowing up behind and above him and he had a very determined look on his face. There was no trail, he just scampered down that wall.
I lay there on the rock shelf about a yard from where the waves were breaking onto the shore. I was awake but couldn’t feel, smell or hear anything. The only sense I had was sight. I remember thinking, “So this is death. Well, it isn’t so bad, at least it doesn’t hurt and everything is pretty”. I could not move but I could see and what I saw was touchingly beautiful. I looked around and noticed a wave coming in. I could see every drop of water glistening in the sunlight, individually sparkling and silent against the blue background of the sky, in sharp focus as though I were looking at precious jewels through a magnifying glass.
After watching the waves come in and go out for a little while, mesmerized by the rhythm, the thought occurred to me that sooner or later the tide would come in. I didn’t think I’d like being dead under water and I decided to get up and move onto dry land and be dead there. Then everything went black and I was no longer aware of anything.
Hours later I woke up with my head in Blond Boy’s lap. He had covered me with the white sheet and he was gently stroking my hair. I looked up into his big gold eyes and said with some surprise, “You didn’t leave me.”
He looked at me with that sweet smile and said, “I have never left you Philip.”
The sun had gone down but it wasn’t quite dusk. I knew then that I was alive and I felt exhausted but there was still no pain. After letting me rest there for a while with my head in his lap, he pointed up to the top of the cliff and said “See up there? You have to go back up now.”
I said, “It’s impossible, there’s no trail. I’m comfortable here, I’ll just stay here and sleep.”
To this day I have never had even the slightest glimmer of memory of climbing up that cliff. The next thing I knew, I was back on the beach at Pirates Cove telling my friends about falling and surviving. Blond Boy was nowhere in sight. I hadn’t caught his name and later when I asked my friends about him no one could recall seeing him. I thought this was strange because even though there were a lot of people there, he was just so outrageously beautiful that I thought he must be impossible to miss.
And how in the hell did he get me back up that cliff? Everything else about that day has been vividly clear in my memory for nearly forty years. That one event is just plain blank and always has been blank.
Later on we all went out dancing. I was the hero of the hour and didn’t pay for a single cocktail that night.
When I woke up the next morning I was very stiff and sore and could barely stand on my feet. My roommate insisted on taking me to the emergency room to get checked out. There was nothing broken, fractured or even bruised. I only had two little scrapes where I had landed, one on the palm of my right hand and one on the heel of my left foot.
Later that summer two more people fell from that same spot. One had nearly every bone in his body broken and he was left paraplegic for life. I saw him down there minutes after he had landed and I drove to a payphone to call the paramedics. I’ll never forget how tiny he looked, way down there on the rock. The other one who fell died instantly when he hit the ground.
I never saw that blond boy again and from time to time throughout the years I have thought of him and I still wonder who he was and whatever happened to him. Sometimes I think he might have been one of those Angels on Earth that I’ve heard about, appearing to save me from dying before before my time but I don’t think I will never know. He may have been just another pretty young drifter, passing through my life at a brief and opportune moment in time.
Philip Andrew Merrick, 13 Nov. 2015