Flying made perfect sense to young Sammy.
From his first blurred glimpse of the mother gull taking to the sky, flight offered an aerial experience he needed to explore. Speeding aloft afforded the promise of the cosmos, an unending journey to everywhere and nowhere at the same time, a refuge where no beginning or end exists. Taking wing as a human without wings posed a dilemma Sammy resolved to solve.
Neither his manic mother Samantha nor his anxiety-ridden father Ricky ever understood the driving force that shaped their boy’s every instinct. Baby Sammy experienced their ignorance as soon as they returned from a failed mission to Vegas and picked him up from alcoholic foster parents who took custody from police when Sammy’s grandmother died and the two dud parents abandoned him.
“Mommy’s home,” Samantha said.
“Waaaawaaaawaaaa,” Sammy said, flapping his little arms in a vain attempt to take off.
Samantha wrinkled her nose.
“He smells,” she said.
“The kid looks flighty,” Ricky said.
“Waaawaaawaaa,” Sammy said.
Samantha held her nose and wanted out.
Vegas visions of prosperity soured for Samantha and Ricky in less than two weeks. She saved $230 from a stint she worked as an exotic dancer wearing feathers not in her hair but elsewhere. Nobody called to interview her in response to the blackjack dealer applications she filed at two fledgling casinos. In three days Ricky owed money to a wannabe Mafia loan shark who threatened to kill Samantha if Ricky didn’t cough up the dough but was impressed when Ricky said he’d be thrilled if the thug took her off his hands. The loan shark thought about killing Ricky instead. No movie deal unfolded for Samantha either, not even one of the first black and white blue movies the mob was shooting with off-duty cops as leading men in a bare trailer out in the desert.
Both losers figured they better go home to sleepy little Clearwater Beach and claim their abandoned property before the Florida cops charged them with any number of felonious crimes even minimal investigation would uncover.
Oblivious to the traumatic desertion ordeal their infant experienced, again they thought only about their own lives and braced to face reality’s gross uncertainty. Impulse made them light out to seek fame and misfortune in the first place. Rather than common sense, impulse controlled their behavior. They could not care less about a dear dead grandmother who departed with no insurance, estate or will. What they got was a squawking bundle of crap that looked and acted like a baby bird, a yearning bundle of nerves that grew into the last responsibility either malcontent parent ever wanted.
So they put Sammy on the market, deciding to sell him to the lowest bidder if the auction came to that.
This peroxide blond floozy with the eyebrow pencil beauty mark, cat eye rhinestone glasses and leopard print pedal pushers and her skinny as an on-the-floor stick shift Old Spice aftershave reeking lout of a husband figured a thousand dollars would seal the deal. Maybe they could peddle their needy baby mammal to one of the Cuban Santeria witches who showed up occasionally in town to use like a rooster in one of her religious ceremonies. After putting word out on the street as far as Tampa, after a month still nobody wanted him. At that point they’d have taken a rooster in exchange. At least they could eat the bird.
The day Sammy turned 10 he stood at the edge of the garage roof wearing a costume he spent two months making for Halloween – the only way Sammy figured he could fool his parents to allow him to sew and glue and piece together a feathery ensemble the kids got hysterical mocking when he wore the suit to the school parade.
“Hey, bird brain!”
“Look at the bird boy!”
Undaunted, the child persevered even when the big kids imprisoned him in the boy’s lavatory and made him eat worms. Sammy freaked them all out by asking for more. Nobody invited him to a Halloween party, his mother got drunk and fell asleep without taking him trick or treating and Ricky told Sammy to go out by himself and try to be home by midnight.
Climbing to the garage roof and standing at the brink, Sammy made himself a promise. No bobbing for apples for this kid. Forget dressing as a hobo, Zorro or a beatnik. Sammy Bennett would fly. In his dreams he simply bent his legs, raised thick soft wings in a strong upward lift before lowering them, and flapped them with an up-and-down motion propelling him forward with his wingspan at a right angle, twisting automatically with each downward stroke to keep aligned with the direction of travel in his flight pattern that took him up, up and away.
Gravity took over as soon as stepped off the roof. On the way down a rush of air stole Sammy’s breath with the bold shock of a junkie ripping off an iron lung, leaving the boy broken and crumpled, facedown in the mud and gravel that littered the short driveway like sharp debris on a lava laden beach after a surprise volcanic eruption. Hitting the ground nose first, the nasal bone snapped, crushing both the upper lateral and lower lateral cartilage. All three bones in Sammy’s left arm also broke, snapping the upper arm bone (humerus) and both forearm bones (the ulna and the radius) into a compound fracture that protruded through Sammy’s bronzed butterscotch skin like brittle Thanksgiving turkey bones showing through a picked over carcass.
Fate forever changed Sammy’s flight plan for the future.
Samantha took up diet pills and crocheting little pink pigs in blankets the elderly women in the area nursing homes thought were darling. She charged a dollar for these prized piggies she laid out on a card table under a beach umbrella and sold outside her ramshackle house. Ricky hawked stolen color television sets and discount cigarettes he bought from a Largo gangster who hijacked trucks to Miami. Samantha hated Ricky as much as Ricky hated himself.
Maybe Sammy’s desire to fly helped push Samantha over the edge when she asked Ricky for help one rainy Sunday afternoon and said she couldn’t reach the outside of the window to wash off the gull shit. Ricky really should have known something was up with her washing windows on a rainy day, but he leaned out with a wet rag and didn’t see her coming from behind. One good nudge did the trick. Accidental death caused by a broken neck, the coroner’s autopsy report said.
Maybe Sammy’s aspiration in the air helped Samantha make up her mind about her own bad self-worth when she stood on the holey house roof with her big toes touching and her calloused bare heels together before launching herself into the air with all the aplomb of America’s mermaid Ester Williams going off the high board in the 1940s in a perfect swan dive.
Sam turned 18 and joined the Navy right after his mother’s funeral. Pilot training appealed to him but he worried about birds getting caught in the jet engines – more concerned about the birds than the pilots – and settled on radios, sonar and every Navy class and training opportunity he could take. Sam excelled and eventually signed up for survival training just in case – in case of what he couldn’t say.
For the next several decades, his desire to soar by his own power only evolved, becoming the most powerful obsession of his existence.
Now 71, sitting alone under a pier few people peered beneath, Sam watched the purple morning sky decorated with Venus and the crescent moon, a sight that thrilled him as did all celestial views. Living on the run in the land of the sun felt natural and good. Healthy and alive, Sam knew survival was what you made it. With dozens of his beautifully crafted gull drones safely shelved in RayRay’s garage, Sam felt secure. Police had no reason to suspect RayRay of giving aid and comfort to an enemy of the state and had no reason to ask a judge for a search warrant.
The cops also had no reason to suspect Ruby or Kim. Durkin could turn on him, though. Sam didn’t trust this relative stranger and maybe never would. You never knew how an ex-cop thought, especially one carrying bloody baggage from what Sam had heard at the bar. Besides, with the recent gun incident at RayRay’s, Durkin apparently had his own problems.
Patient and calm, Sam waited to make his next move – retrieving the explosive detonators he stole from the condo construction site and hid under an abandoned catamaran with the name Kon-Tiki painted on one of the hulls. About three years ago somebody left the watercraft to deteriorate in the high beach plants and perennial grasses on an isolated stretch of dune nobody frequented anymore.
Sam sometimes sat beside the raft and meditated, seeing himself as a reincarnated bird Buddha – not looking for trouble and landing wherever he pleased. Maybe one day he’d meet a mate. Love mattered, of course, and Sam epitomized emotion and devotion for all sentient creatures, understanding how primitive impulse and instinct would one day propel him beyond the sun where all past, present and future gull spirits find ultimate freedom to fly free forever. Sam repeated his mantra over and over, words to live by.
Sam now planned his next attack. Instead of using poop bombs like he did during the test run on the ribbon cutting, he’d plant one or two detonators in each drone’s belly. Kamikaze gulls loaded with real bombs should get their attention. Hitting the super condo tower at any stage of construction would convey a clear message no development was safe as long as work unbalanced the ecosystem. That meant no development was safe.
Florida’s pampered Ivy League governor and his prissy pink cotton candy wife continued to menace nature as well as authorize the building of countless commercial properties on the backs of the poor, the vulnerable and the powerless. Condos would continue to rise, the rich would profit more than ever and the gulls would suffer.
When Sammy was four a hurricane wind blew a gull through the front window of their rented house. Grabbing his camera, Ricky made Sammy pose in his bare feet, flannel pajama bottoms and a Davey Crockett coonskin cap, holding the poor bird by the legs in his left hand like a duck or pheasant after a successful hunting trip. In his right hand Sammy held his dad’s deer rifle as big as he was. Struggling to control the weight of the gun, Sammy dropped the weapon and blew a hole in the ceiling. Ricky spanked him so hard he couldn’t sit on the commode without crying for a week.
Gulls and children deserve better.
Freedom fighters normally train to build fires to get warm, ward off predators and provide heat for cooking. They create potable water, tie knots, make weapons, build shelters, learn basic first aid, fish and trap and what have you.
At this stage in his life, all that and more came to him as second nature. More so than looking after himself, survival to Sam meant improving the lives of others, including other species, making sure nature thrived and his friends not only lived but lived happily ever after.
Only then could Sam fly away.