I take a sip of my drink and allow myself to become hypnotized by the passing waves. I imagine each wave is a moment of my past. Some of them are sweet and small. Like weekend hot fudge sundaes with my mom. Some are soothing and lulling. Like falling asleep in the back of my dad’s Dodge Dart after a late night Passover at my Aunt Liza’s. Others are rough and rebellious like my sister’s cancer and the avoidance of my feelings about my sister’s cancer.
The waves get smaller and smaller as they drift away and I like that. Not that I don’t enjoy big waves. I like them too. They’re wild and fun, good time waves, life of the party with their daring frothiness and their loud music waves. Loud is good sometimes. Heck, it’s downright essential, blocking out the madness inside. The waves might have a thing or two to teach me.
Oh, how easily lulled I am by the sea. That’s not just the chilled Prosecco talking, although that’s fairly lulling in its own right. What must it feel like to be a wave, I wonder? There’s no place you really have to be but you’re in continuous motion, going with the flow. Would the monotony of it all exhaust me or would I happily exist among my fellow waves as if in a blissful trance? I duck under the lines and pull myself forward so I can get closer to the subject of my latest pondering. I watch the waves and imagine that I am one of them. I close my eyes and enjoy the sea mist as it makes contact with my face. It’s all so damn beautiful that the only thing that can take me out of this moment is the next one.
Suddenly… the biggest wave appears out of nowhere, Steven yells something I can’t understand, the boat suddenly heals to the left and a burst of wet cold attacks my body and my eyes spring open. I’m in the water!
Did I jump? No, I must have fallen! I’m not sure! How could I not know? One moment I was contemplating waves and the next moment I was immersed in them! This is crazy. Is it real? Maybe I passed out from the potent combination of sun, Prosecco and sadness. A big swell arrives and takes me with it. The boat I was just on is getting smaller and smaller. I’m not dreaming. I’m too cold to be dreaming. I’m riding swells and bopping up and down in the sea. Ocean actually. But ‘sea’ sounds more poetic. This is really not the time to be poetic… I need to gather my thoughts… I need to NOT PANIC! They’re always telling us how panicking is the thing we should definitely not do in an emergency.
The good news is, I can swim. I mean, I was never on a swim team or anything official like that but I grew up in an apartment complex that had a pool and my family made weekend visits to the beach every summer. I got this. Furthermore, lessening the need to panic, is the knowledge that Steven, a lifelong sailor, will turn around and throw out a lifesaver as soon as he realizes I’m gone. Hopefully a cherry one. HAHAHAHA. Okay, all is not lost if I can still think about candy and crack myself up with stupid puns. Or maybe madness has set in. Already? No, no, too soon for that. This is no biggie. It’s just a mere inconvenience. Sure, Steven might be angry when he does arrive. He frustrates easily. But all in all, this will be of no real consequence. Just a silly blip on the big HD flatscreen of our even bigger HD lives.
HOLLY SHIT! WHAT WAS THAT? A torpedo of some sort narrowly missed me! Has a war broken out in the time I’ve been in the water? Did 45 declare a war, not just against immigrants, women, and all human decency but against the entire world? Before I could think any more about this terrifying thought, a pelican flapped its massive wings with a fish dangling in its mouth and flew off above me. Our eyes met for a moment and I swear he winked at me like he was saying, that was a bit of fun, wasn’t it? Pelicans can be real assholes. I wonder if a pelican has ever killed a human. I don’t remember ever hearing about that. You’d think meme makers across all platforms would have gotten to work on the winky pelican image if this was a thing. #Pelicanattack would have been trending for at least three hours. Until a celebrity said something offensive or someone famous died. Or someone famous is mentioned but not dead, but Twitter got worried and then relieved to find the celebrity was still alive and they kept the name trending by tweeting that Denzel Washington GIF of him with his hand to heart (phew!)
FOCUS, CAROL! FOCUS! Okay, I’m swimming. I’m in the water, not a boat, and I don’t think I’m dreaming because I can feel the water, the cold and the fear. Fear happens in nightmares, sure, but do I ever actually feel cold in nightmares? I can’t remember now. No one ever talked about what to do in this situation. I read The Old Man and the Sea, Moby-Dick and Master & Commander but still, my sea-worthy knowledge isn’t worthy at all. Do women authors write about the sea? Of course they do but why haven’t I read those books? Maybe if I did I’d know what to do right now. My mind is going too fast. It does that a lot. My ex used to say, you’re dancing as fast as you can. I never understood it but now I think maybe he meant my thoughts? But then the as I can part doesn’t make sense because I am not willing this. This is not a can situation. This is a whirling dervish twirl of activity that is not a matter of will.
My thoughts are thinking me and worry is at the helm.
I wonder what other creatures must be lurking around me. I look down and try to see through the water hoping not to see a damn thing. It’s better not to know if the ’S’ word is down there. If I should see a large beast swimming about I will tell myself that it’s only a dolphin and remain on point. But what should I exactly remain on point about? Do I have a plan? I haven’t ever given the possibility of me being stranded in the middle of the sea (ocean) so I guess I’m going to have to improvise. So far I’ve just been doggie paddling to nowhere.
Okay, get it together, look around. Above the water — look above the water. I can see the boat. The sweet, comfy, safe boat I was just in and it’s even smaller than it was the last time I looked. I don’t understand. Why isn’t Steven turning around? He must not know yet. I remember I told him that I was going to lie down for a bit in the main cabin. I guess he didn’t notice when I came back out with a glass of Prosecco and dangled my legs at the edge of the transom. Is he that oblivious? That self centered? That uncaring? Or is he just that way when it concerns me? Why oh why am I still with him?
We met eight years ago in line at Trader Joes. I caught him eyeing my Key Lime Tea Cookies and he scoffed and said, Crispy, Crunchy Chocolate Chip or go home. I should have gone home. But instead I teased him back with, I guess some of us just have more refined taste. He laughed which of course made me like him all the more. He left his line and came over to mine. No cuts, I said (but didn’t mean). He said, come on, I’ll give you a good cookie. The crunch is crazy satisfying. I let the Cookie Man in front of me so I could look at him some more. (yeah, he’s that hot.) We exchanged cookies for a blissful three weeks before I figured out there was a Mrs. Cookie man at home. But by then it was too late.
I was hooked on the crunch.
My legs are kicking, keeping me above water. So far it’s all been instinct. But now, now I should probably take a moment to actively think a thought that might be useful. I must start swimming in a direction. Yes! A direction! Towards land would be wise. I can see hills in the distance! It would probably take me five hours to swim there. But I can no longer stay put. It’s clear that Steven is not turning around and I need to make a choice. I can see a ship on the horizon, I can swim to that one! But when I look again, it's a rock. Oh great, hallucinations are already setting in.
I begin to swim, slowly, calmly, sans panic, towards land. I’ve never swum more than twenty minute before. I’ve never worked out at anything more than an occasional thirty minute YouTube yoga class. Ten minutes of that is in savasana. Yes! I can do that! When I get tired I will simply rest in a floating savasana.
The boat I was on is further away now but I can still make out the tiny Steven. He appear to be waving. Is he looking through his binoculars? Probably. He loves those things. This is it! He sees me so I’ll be okay now. He’s taking the sails down. That means he’s going to motor up here quickly and this will all be an hilarious memory, remember that one time when you fell in the water? We will charm our friends with this story, well, his friends, we don’t actually share any friends. We will charm his friends with our tales at a dinner party in someone’s shmancy home. I wave my arm up in the air, my arm feels as heavy as a bag of concrete. The boat moves faster! It’s coming towards me! Wait, why is it turning around? Is he doing some sort of loop? Is this a boating thing I don’t know about? Wait, no, he’s turned the other way! He’s facing the opposite direction! He’s leaving! He’s leaving me here! That SONOFABITCH!
Okay okay, I can use this anger. I can use this anger for my own survival. One stroke, two stroke, the thing is I’m mad at him, sure, breathe in, breath out, but I’m also mad at me. I’m no longer cold so that’s good. Mad at me for my stupid choices. My concrete arms ache, that’s not good. I’m 32 years old. That’s a grown woman’s age. One stroke, two stroke, I should know better than to waste my time with a vapid cheater, breathe in, breathe out. I can’t believe people swim for fun. Long distances! On purpose! Of course they train. Maybe I can convince myself that I am a distant swimmer training for the olympics. I can pretend. I can ‘fake it until I make it.” Except… I might not. Make it. Now my legs are tiring. I flip over on my back and float in savasana and slow down my breathing. I’m floating.
I’m alive, all in one piece. I’m okay. The clouds are comforting me, the pillows of the sky. That one looks like a gorilla. I love gorillas. I had such a thing for Koko the gorilla when I was a kid. Koko had a kitten that she loved. She treated that kitten as if it were her little baby. I read everything I could about Koko. I watched the PBS specials with my dad who was a big fan of PBS. I began to feel whatever it was I assumed Koko was feeling. If I found out that Koko was sad, then I was sad. If Koko got frustrated then I got frustrated. I was a mini empath for Koko. I wonder if Koko is okay now? Gorillas can live fifty years in captivity so she could very well be just fine. In fact, I’m deciding that not only is Koko fine, she’s feeling strong and full of vim and vigor and is happily retired in Florida. No, not there. Anywhere but there. Hawaii! Yes, she is happily living out her final chapter on the Big Island working on her novel. And with that last thought I take a deep breath, turn myself back around and begin to swim again, this time full of my imagined strong-happy-Koko energy. One stroke, two stroke, breathe in, breathe out.
It’s not out of the question that another boat could arrive. Hopefully one with no dickheads on board.
Albanians swam to Corfu to escape communism. I can swim to that island to escape drowning.
There’s this woman I heard about, a swimmer from South Africa who lost her leg in an accident and still went on to win awards at the olympics for swimming. I mean, come on! I have two working legs. I’m racing now for survival. Isn’t that motivation enough?, I ask my arms and legs. But my arms, my legs, they don’t answer me. Instead they continue to slow down as if they are trying to get through mud, not water. All of me feels tired.
I make a promise with God, or the Universe, or whomever/whatever is listening. If I live, I promise to make better choices, to never date another married man. I also promise not to date another man full of fluff and lies with little interest in my thoughts, feelings or happiness. My eyes blink sleepily. I just need to shut them for a bit. I will do something substantial, something real with my life. Maybe I can just float for awhile. To confront the things that hurt me. To reach out to my family. To talk about the death of my sister. I will be a grown up and work through shit. I will start anew. Maybe even someplace new. I will have a new life, like what happened to Goldie Hahn in that movie, Overboard. Minus the bratty fake kids and lying fake husband. Floating is morphing into sinking now. I can live solo for awhile, sinking, maybe I can open a little book store or flower shop like a not so relatable perky rom com heroine. That sounds nice.
Under the water, everything is so slow, so peaceful, I am letting go… but before I can release fully into the dark waters, I blink open my eyes to see that smug eyed glaring pelican wink at me again. WTF? The pelican quickly grabs the back of my bikini top (so happy I bought the strong, sporty one) with her massive pelican beak and she flies me
up — towards the light (but not in a Poltergeist way)
and she flies me
out… above the water. We are now flying in the sky… flying! I’ve always wanted to fly! It’s just as I imagined it would be. I feel… free.
I feel bad for thinking the pelican an asshole.
She’s not an asshole. She’s my magnificent flying dinosaur of an angel who’s giving me a second chance. After we soar through the air for a bit, she gently places me down on dry land. I thank her (in my mind because I can’t seem to find the words) she bows her head at me, smiles with her eyes that now seem less smug and more wise, she then squawks a loud goodbye as she flies up, up and away.
And I am here.
Feeling so fucking grateful
first published in P.S. I Love You on Medium