Almost 10 years ago and more than 20 lbs lighter, this is me. Shaun and I had taken a trip to the island where my family lived. When we were young and had disposable income, we could do things like drive down for a long weekend.
This trip happened to take place just a few days after a hurricane had blown through. The ocean was beautiful and turbulent. Normally, it’s calm and only the most determined surf off the coast. It was too beautiful to ignore so we set off walking down the beach, looking for shells and little sea animals that sometimes get washed up.
Several years before, we had come across a sea turtle that had been washed ashore and pecked on the neck by some scavenging bird. We collected the little guy into an ice bucket we stole from a hotel with ocean water. Then we went to the police station to see if a conservationist could come get him. In a small town on a small island, the police are the ones who know who to call.
On this trip, however, there wasn’t as much debris – there were just HUGE waves. (Huge compared to normal – I know other places put our little patch of ocean to shame.) I couldn’t help it – I dove in and started body surfing, leaving Shaun with the camera.
It was wonderful, but even then my body had started it’s course towards this dis-ease. I had been diagnosed with mitral valve prolapse. I needed to sleep about 14 hours a day. I would throw up if I was in the sun for too long. I wasn’t even 21. Instead of being young, beautiful, and fabulous I was busy making contingency plans. Carefree and spontaneous were (and still are) words I didn’t understand.
No matter all that – I kept surfing. After four or five waves I was getting very tired and decided to go after one more ride then go back to the hotel for a nap.
I dove in and started swimming out towards the waves. That was the one that caught me – a riptide. I remember being pulled towards the bottom and my brain started the emergency procedure protocol: don’t panic, relax, swim parallel to the shore.
Initiate survival tactic #1 – don’t panic. I realized then under the water that I didn’t care very much if I came back up. I wasn’t suicidal. I was just at ease that if my life was at an end, that was ok too. The pain, the fatigue, the grief, the losses of infertility – that would all be over if the ocean kept me. I saw the swirls of the waves enveloping me and supporting me.
In normal circumstances, I’m terrified of drowning. Of being pressed from all sides and powerless to reach the top for a breath. The thought in my head during this was “one breath and it’s all over.” Instead of terror, I felt relief.
I don’t know how long I was under but the ocean didn’t want me. It spat me out literally at Shaun’s feet. The wave pushed me into something solid and then there was a flash.
The flash of a camera held by my husband.
The ocean gave me back to him and it didn’t even take my hat. That ocean is a pretty cool guy. I’d like to see him again.