The first time I saw them, I thought the man was guiding his elderly father along the beach.
The son clutched the crook of his father’s elbow as they made their way up from the shore toward the winding staircase that led to the hotel lobby. The father was old: seventy, maybe seventy-five, years old. He wore sneakers with socks and long plaid shorts. His short sleeve, button down shirt had palm tees printed on it, but it was still entirely out of place among the young men and women frolicking on the beach in swim trunks and brightly colored bikinis. The father wore a hat, but it was too stiff, too formal, for the relaxed vibe of the Hawaiian beach. As they climbed the sand, they walked past rows of beachgoers baking on blue and white striped towels. Everyone turned to watch them walk by, likely taken aback as I was at how misfit the father was in this environment, but thinking, much like I was, how lucky he was to have his son caring for him.
The second time I saw them, the son was swimming while his father sat uncomfortably upright in a lawnchair. A small inscription on the chair read, “Do Not Remove From Patio.” The father wore the same sneakers, shorts, and hat, but the print on his button down shirt was different. It was covered in abstract swirls of blues and greens and was buttoned up all the way to his neck. He looked miserably hot from the sun bouncing off the white sand and I could see him squinting into the distance as he waited for his son to return.
The last day I saw them, the son was dripping wet from having just gotten out of the ocean. The father stood up from his lawnchair, arms outstretched with a dry towel, while his son navigated the sprawl of sunbathers. When the son finally reached him, the father draped the towel around his son’s shoulders and carefully dried him off, standing up on his toes to rub the towel over the top of his head. The son stood there unmoving but allowing his arms to be lifted and pulled into the sleeves of the t-shirt that had been neatly folded on the adjacent lawnchair. The old man pulled a small comb out of his shirt pocket and ran it through his son’s hair, parting it just over his right eye. He wrangled a few more errant strands before tucking the comb back into his shirt pocket and bending over to shake the sand off his son’s sandals, laying them out on the ground to make it easier to slide into them.
When they were finished, the father held out the crook of his arm and the son grasped onto it as the two headed toward the winding stairwell that led to the hotel lobby. As they passed my cabana, I looked at the son carefully for the first time and saw the slight imperfection, the unmistakable abnormality. He did not see me although his eyes looked right at me. He was also older than I thought — he was forty, maybe forty-five years old — but his skin had the golden glow of youth, a product of spending endless days under the summer sun. A brave beachgoer pulled himself up off his towel and walked over to speak with the old man. After a few minutes, the beachgoer shook his hand and returned to his towel. I watched the duo climb the stairs, painstakingly slow, until they disappeared around the bend.
Back on the beach men and women ogled each other while children squealed and thrashed in the water as a sea turtle swam by.