Detective Kris Pompa works for the Galveston Police Department, but years back worked as a Beach Patrol Officer/Supervisor. One day, as he was patrolling the beach in front of the condos on the east end when he spotted something unusual on the shoreline. The aquamarine blue colored bottle glinted in the sun as he stopped the vehicle and walked over to it. It was an unusual, long necked bottle. It was corked, but the cork was covered in wax that had been carefully dripped down the length of the neck. It was light and felt empty of any type of fluid. As he held it up to let the early morning sun’s rays shine through, he noticed several pieces of paper folded up inside.
Back at our headquarters we opened the bottle and pulled three sheets of carefully folded paper out. We unfolded them to find two separate letters in meticulously written German.
I asked my brother, who is fluent in German, to translate for me and sent him scanned copies. A few days later he sent me a summary. The story was heartbreaking.
Both letters were written to a one year old child who would have been just a few days short of his second birthday if he had been still alive, although it sounded like he died just shy of his first birthday. They talked about how much they missed him, including his now 4-year-old brother. At the time of the letters, he also had a younger sister. The father talked about how he wished he could play soccer with him and his siblings and how he still wants to be a better father to him and to pay more attention to him. The mother talked about how she wants to set aside an hour every two weeks to think about him and how, even though she misses him terribly, nothing can take away the fact that she was once able to hold and kiss him. They both talked about how he belongs in their family and always will. Neither says how he died.
Another lifeguard told me he found a similar message to a lost loved one from the Corpus area, but others had found the bottle and added their own notes of sympathy. He added his own, resealed it, and set it free in the ship channel on an outgoing tide.
I’ve never found a message in a bottle but it seems like a really poignant way of communicating, especially in the digital age where everything is immediate, but seems to also hold less weight.
All too many of us know how true loss freezes that last moment in time. Sending a message in a bottle reflects that. It is simultaneously both impersonal and intensely intimate. Not only are you writing to a loved one, but also to a complete stranger who finds the bottle. The idea that this stranger is connected to you both by fate, and is potentially someone who fully understands the essence of your message, seems very significant.