3.22.2007

True Story

When we left the hotel room, we decided that we would grab a bite for breakfast, head to the beach and walk around down there for a bit, then head back to poolside in Ocala. The weather in Vero Beach was somewhat overcast and pretty windy... not quite beach weather.

Once we travelled the few miles to the coast, the sky had cleared up, although the wind was still strong. Tommy, Dave, and I grabbed our towels and reading material and made our way over the small hill onto the beach. We were determined to make the most of our proximity to the ocean, wind be damned.

We settled in and lotioned up. The lotion acted as adhesive for the sand that was being blown across the beach. We marvelled at the brilliance of the blue sky and the large waves in the surf. They must be at least three or four feet high, we commented to each other.

After a while, I suggested that we walk for a bit down the beach at the edge of the water. The three of us left our towels and headed down the small incline to where the waves slid up the sand and then receded into the ocean. The cold water shocked our feet; a larger wave soaked the cuffs of my capris. We watched several surfers and boogie boarders bob on the waves a bit further down the way. A swell would rise behind them and they would paddle furiously and hop on their boards, swaying to stay upright for more than a few seconds. The waves were large, but they were cresting to quickly for any long rides.

"I'm kind of tempted to go change into my suit and go in for a bit," Tommy said.

Me, too, I thought.

"Yeah, but we need to be in the car on the way home in about thirty minutes if we are going to make it home by the time everyone is expecting us," Dave reminded us.

I looked at Tommy and I looked at Dave. I decided to indulge my little brother. We walked out to the vehicle, got our suits, and changed into them in the bathrooms.

"I haven't been swimming in the ocean in several years," he told me. "That's part of why I want to go today, even though it will be cold. I don't know when I'll get another chance."

I like being the big sister that gives Tommy the opportunity to do stuff he normally wouldn't get to do. As we walked back up to the beach, I played with the idea of what would happen if something happened to Tommy and me while we were in the water. Would Dave say that he had told us not to go? Do people have premonitions if something bad might happen? I dismissed the thoughts thinking that even if people do have premonitions like that I felt perfectly secure in going out into the ocean today.

We ran into the surf, applying the theory that it isn't as cold if you just go in all at once. We jumped over the waves and began to dive under them as the water got deeper. We got out past where the waves were breaking so we could float along the top of the waves. It was too deep for either of us to touch. We treaded water and laughed as the waves picked us up and dropped us down behind them.

"I've never been in waves this big," Tommy said to me.

I toldd him about when I'd lived in Jacksonville and a time when I'd been in the ocean in San Diego and I'd gone boogie boarding and had ridden waves these big into the shore. I had to tell the story in short spurts, between the waves and between trying to catch my breath from treading water for so long.

"Let's catch this next wave and ride it in," I said to him. He nodded.

I began kicking my feet as the wave rose behind me. As the tips started to froth white, I stretched my arms out ahead of me and gave a couple big kicks before streamlining my body. About twenty feet closer to shore, I looked back at Tommy, who was still in about the same location as we'd started. I hopped along a bit and rode a few smaller waves in until I could stand in about knee-deep water and turn back to watch Tom.

I admired him as I watched him dive under another wave. I had been getting tired and I had needed to come in closer to where I could stand to catch my breath. Tommy, only seventeen years old and an athlete, had so much more endurance than I.

"Vi!" he called and waved, letting me know where he was. I waved back.

"Vi!" Tommy's voice came from behind a wave. I started to hop a little further out so he could see where I was. I wished that he wouldn't call like that; his voice was scaring me because it sounded like something was wrong.

"Vi!" Something wasn't right. I started back out into the surf towards him. I remembered a friend who had talked about her niece getting bitten by a shark on this very same beach.

His voice came to me again, "Vi!" I was close enough to clearly see his face now and I could tell that he was scared.

"Are you okay?" I asked as I reached him.

"No," he said. His face was white. His voice sounded like that of a child who has just woken from a bad dream.

"What's wrong?"

"I can't get in. The waves are too big."

"Okay," I told him. "It's okay." I grabbed his wrist with my right and and started pulling. "Come on, we're okay. Let's swim in."

We started swimming towards the shore. The waves were coming in shorter intervals now. As soon as we would get over a wave another one would be on top of us.

"Dive under this one," I instructed. As soon as we did, I could feel the turbulent water try to tear his arm from my hand. My head surfaced and my hair was in my face. With my free hand, I pushed it out of my eyes and gasped for a breath.

I could feel myself getting more and more exhausted. We couldn't reach the bottom. We couldn't relax and catch our breath. We were both trying to stay afloat and swim to shore using only one hand. At one point, I tried to release his hand so I could get myself high enough above the water to get a breath and see where we were. I stared up at the sky, grasping my brother's arm, kicking towards shore and feeling another wave get ready to push us where it wanted us to go.

Oh, God, please just let us make it to shore.

Finally, we reached water that was shallow enough for us to stand. We staggered toward the sand, waves still shoving us in the back, keeping us off balance. We held onto each other's wrists until we made it and sat down on the sand. I felt like I was going to vomit from the physical exertion. Tommy still looked scared.

I stayed in rescue mode as the lifeguard came down to check on us and then Dave walked down from where we'd set up camp. I guided Tommy back to our towels, where he laid prone, face inches from the sand. I took his pulse, rubbed his back, instructed him to drink sips of water. After he'd vomited sea water and orange juice from breakfast, we walked back to the car. His pulse had slowed, his stomach had settled.

As the immediate danger receded, the reality of the incident hit me. My lack of common sense had put my little brother in danger. Anytime I've been in waves like that, I've had a boogie board to float on in order not to get exhausted. Tommy isn't as experienced a swimmer as I am; I was on swim team for years, he plays soccer. He's never been in waves that big and I left him out there alone. I should've known better.

I shake my head in disgust on the drive home and blink back tears as I stare at the book I am trying to read. I am grateful that we both escaped unharmed, but I beat myself with guilt for having put him in that position. I should've known better.

5 comments:

Jen, Fred, Jennifer or Mom said...

Oh Em, don't beat yourself up. Everything is a learning experience. It all turned out okay. You are human. God forgives and so does anyone who loves you, so you need to forgive yourself. Who are you to contradict God?????

Hugs dear!!!

blakbyrd797 said...

Wow, that was scary. I'm glad everyone is ok! I would've been afraid to go out any deeper than I could stand... I'm a chicken when it comes to water, even though I took swimming lessons for a long time and passed into the advanced "trials" (treading water for so many minutes, doing so many laps with each stroke, etc). I probably would've sunk like a stone under those conditions, heh.

You know what they say about hindsight, right? Everything was ok in the end. Still, it's mentally exhausting to go through an experience like that. I hope you're both feeling beter.

sista smiff said...

Good grief...I'm so glad y'all are ok. Mr. Smiff's aunt was caught in a riptide about 10 years ago and just about left this world.

How scary! Don't beat yourself up.

Tug said...

I also agree hindsight is just that - hindsight. You wanted your brother to have the great experience of swimming in the ocean...and you're both all right. Breathe.....& don't beat yourself up. Live, and learn. Glad you're OK!!

Mishka said...

It is not your fault and everyone is okay. Don't beat yourself up. I am sure that later on, swimming in the ocean with you will be one of his fondest memories.