Monday, July 02, 2007

Both feet in the waves

Image: I will always be Saffanna

Under the Waves - Pseudosix

One summer while my extended family was vacationing at the Jersey Shore, my aunt almost drowned. She was an excellent swimmer and didn't go out very far, but got snagged by the undertow and slammed against the sea floor. Some long agonized moments and pints of swallowed seawater later she surfaced, stunned but -- lucky considering it was a sparsely populated beach and no one was swimming with her -- not unconscious. By the time she clambered to dry land, her limbs were badly scratched, one side of her face had already mottled red-to-purple and her cheekbone and nose looked iffy.

People almost drown all the time. I've been swimming since my parents plopped me in a pool at 18 months and I've near-succumbed to death by drowning twice that I can remember (once in a lake when I ventured beyond bounds, once in a pool when a bad swimmer panicked and grabbed me by the shoulders). What was notable (or, possibly typical) about my aunt's near-miss was what happened next. Even though she was a red hot ball of pain and looked liked she'd wandered into a bare-knuckle boxing ring, because she looked like she'd wandered into a bare-knuckle boxing ring, my aunt refused to go to the emergency room. No one was going to believe that it was the ocean that had used her as a punching bag. For that reason, my uncle, broad-shouldered and a full foot taller, wasn't eager to accompany her. Riptides, mortally dangerous as they are (
actually killing something like 100 people a year in the U.S.) were one thing. A close call could be shed like wet clothes. Potential social mortification and gossip, even in a seaside town where no one knew us, fed an entirely different level of fear.

So the adults debated how it looks and my aunt
self-medicated with gin and aspirin. And we kids, earlier promised lobster and coleslaw for dinner, grew hungry and cranky and lethargic, then, despite the fact that the kitchen was well-stocked with Coke and Doritos and other various kid-junk, started talking about death by starvation the way children who never have and never will be at risk for death by starvation talk. About the days and weeks it would actually take and if it would hurt or be more like a gradual, numbing slip into sleep. And we laughed off the legitimate shadow on our day, The Undertow, like it was some comic figure of mischief, some soft, sandy, subaquatic poltergeist that scrapes your shins, throws seaweed in your face, spoils your dinner. We talked, my brother and cousins and I, like kids who didn't yet know classmates who would drive off cliffs, neighbors who'd deliberately fill their garages with carbon monoxide, friends who'd die from drug overdoses and cancer and drowning. But at least we had the excuse of ignorance.

From Pseudosix, forthcoming on Sonic Boom.


Blogger Jenna said...

I love this post - thank you.

9:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice journal entry.

5:25 PM  

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