The Day That Went Missing by Richard Beard

The devastating memoir by Richard Beard that examines the day his brother drowned on a family holiday, a day that has been locked away until now...

The Day That Went Missing

I was going to die so I decided to save myself, and staying alive took total concentration

I understood with absolute clarity that I had one go at this. Run out of breath too soon and I would drown, exhausted and unable to find my footing. Keep going and I might get close enough in to stand, to live.

The memory is unsatisfactory. I experience the pain of remembering though I can’t clearly remember. I was going to die so I decided to save myself, and staying alive took total concentration. I swam my frenzied approximate crawl until finally I had to breathe, and when my legs dropped down, my feet touched sand. The sand dragged me out, but I was far enough in to fight the undertow. I swam again, until I needed to breathe again. Chest-high in the water, waist-high, the sea was around my thighs and I could almost run, heaving my hips one way then the other, driving hard towards land, knees raised, escaping the water.

I don’t remember looking back, or arriving at the camp on the main stretch of beach. I’m out of the water and running. I see a man. He is higher up, on rocks (or on a path above the rocks?). I tell him . . . I don’t know what; whatever I said isn’t part of what I know. I communicate the situation and the man stands up, gazes out to sea as if primed to make a decisive intervention. He takes off his sunglasses, and in a purposeful gesture hands them to the distressed and dripping boy.

I’m running again, to the right, over patches of hard sand between flat rocks, from one terrain to another. I remember looking down on myself, as if from above, running with the stranger’s metal-framed sunglasses and finding them an absurd responsibility to have accepted. I throw his stupid sunglasses to the ground and they smash on hard rock and I don’t care. I’ve broken an adult stranger’s sunglasses, intentionally, and I don’t care. I’m crying, I’m running. My face is out of control.

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