Rebirth: What Nearly Drowning Taught Me About Living
The beach was carved into a smooth crescent moon, its boundaries marked by a rock cliff rising sharply behind the bleached shores. As we pulled in, sun-weathered entrepreneurs assailed our car in their eagerness to sell us their parking spot and an umbrella. We shook them off and decided on a calmer place a bit further on and walked gingerly across the fine sand towards the water, where attendants displayed their wares of beach blankets and coverups, and ice cream men lugged their delicacies in yellow coolers strapped across their shoulders.
The shore was flat up to the edge of the high-tide, then dove in a steep descent that ended at the breakline of the pounding surf, where fifteen-foot waves rose and curled into themselves with thunderous crashing. There were beautiful shells beyond the reach of the waves, some such a vibrant purple that I mistook them for plastic until I held them in my hand.
The ocean drew me to itself, and after the wave crested, I followed it back, past the pull of the surf and the breakline, where I was suddenly lifted high above the ocean floor. The waves stilled inexplicably. My fingers combed through seaweed that floated with me. The water was dark and impenetrable—too salty. It moved with form around my legs, coaxing me further out to sea. It made me nervous, so I kicked, back to the shallow water where I could touch the ground, and rested on my knees in the water.
Without warning, the waves began again. The water rose above my head and tumbled down at my feet, carrying me up the shoreline, then dragged me back down the hill of sand with as little resistance as a child sliding down a slope of ice—till I met the breakline. An enormous wave crashed atop my head, knocking me onto my stomach and the playful force turned ominous and gripped at my feet, pulling me below the surface.
The world turned dark. Saltwater surged into my lungs and nose as I tumbled and cartwheeled below under the water, only to be spat out again towards the shore, except this time, I was helpless to get my head above the water—the ceiling of the undercurrent was too strong. The current flung me, and wrenched my body and panicked thoughts raced through my head—I can’t breathe, I have to get out, I can’t get out, I can’t breathe—while a roar of incredible force filled my ears. But I wasn't coming up. The thoughts funneled quickly into a single realization—I was going drown.
It all felt so familiar…
It was hot still, though autumn had come, and I was running through the forest with him. The path forked suddenly, and I stopped. I knew which way we were going to go, but I couldn't go further because I realized something I’d always known, and couldn’t unknow this time.
His heavy footsteps halted, and he turned, without coming closer. “What’s wrong?” He asked, without inflection.
“I can’t keep you above the water anymore,” I said slowly, staring out into the forest. “And you will let me drown trying,” I finished. God, don’t let it be true.
We both knew it was.
I dragged my gaze to his face. He looked at me blankly and tilted his head slightly, eyebrows furrowed. The wall between us grew thicker—it surprised me. I hadn’t thought that wall could get any thicker. His arms drooped heavily from his shoulders, and the silence stretched and lengthened.
I stepped closer and repeated myself, more forcefully, “You will let me drown to save you.”
He shifted to his other leg without answering. A biker whizzed by. Two joggers were coming towards us down the path. He glanced towards them then at me with a warning glance to save this for later. But I hadn’t been able to breathe for a long while now. It was too late. My world was dark, and I was being pushed and pulled by an external force neither of us could control—a force uncompassionate and unfeeling.
“All these years, and I never saw it…” I continued in disbelief, tears choking my voice. I loved him enough to stay, but he didn't love me enough to let me go.
I’ll never forget how he looked at me. There was no denial or defensiveness. There was grief, maybe, and a question—the same question I had—did I have it in me to leave?
I would die if I stayed. He could die if I left...it was why I’d existed like this for so long. He studied my expression carefully, as emotions flitted across my face—he didn’t think I could leave either.
We would go down together.
My throat closed. “I can’t breathe,” I gasped, stumbling to the side of the path to heave dry sobs until the ground spun. Thoughts flew wildly through my mind as I broke down—I can’t breathe, I have to get out, I can’t get out, I can’t breathe…
Yes. I was going to drown.
The wave tossed me again towards the shore like a plaything, but this time I rammed into something solid—a pair of legs. A strong hand seized my arm, and I clung to it desperately as the surf protested. I was hauled up to my knees above the water, but the surf roared past and knocked me back down on my stomach.
But he didn’t let go. When the wave abated, he pulled me shaking to my feet, and I stumbled up the shoreline, as I began to cough out the water that had forced its way into my body. My scalp was thick with sand, and the skin on my legs and arms was raw. People gathered around me with concern as I leaned over, hands on my knees, panting on the side of the shoreline, trying to breathe as sea water and sand expelled from my nose and throat.
I blinked, stunned at the brightness of the day and the concerned faces surrounding me. I was alive. I hadn't drowned...Relief coursed through me. My legs trembled. I tried unsuccessfully to brush the knotted hair from my face, and wipe the sand off my checks, but couldn’t find a piece of me not already caked with sand—I started to laugh. My body was light with gratitude, a feeling that had become as familiar to me as the feelings of drowning had been in the life behind me. It was almost too much to comprehend how I’d gotten from the forest path, to here—to this beautiful country, full of new friends waiting to be made, new colors, and transcendent experiences I couldn't yet imagine. I was raw, yes, but I was free, able to stand on my own and embrace a world flooded with light.
It was a priceless gift—one I wouldn’t waste this time.