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the hand of the wave

What with the Tsunami, I've been thinking about the sea again and my own
near drownings.

In my first brush with waves I was a child, seven or eight years old, and
the wave rose behind me huger than anything I'd ever experienced and closed
over me like a hand. It picked me up as easily as if I were just another
pebble. Inside the wave, I had my eyes open, and I thought only of my
grandmother's tales and how a wave drags you into the deep. How the sea can
swallow boats, men, women, children. But I don't remember being afraid.

I swear I felt like I could breathe. As though I was encapsulated in
a perfect bubble of silence and light. Floating within the womb of the wave,
the soft shut hand of water. Everything around me blue.
The most perfect, heartbreaking blue I've ever seen. Like the streak of
colour inside glaciers. Like being encased in a jewel. Turquoise. Topaz.
Aquamarine.

I don't remember how the sea came to relinquish me, or how I crawled to
shore (for there was no one there to help me, my father did not see my
predicament). That experience did not leave me terrified of waves, only a
strange almost-longing for a half-remembered world.

The second experience was markedly more unpleasant. I was in the waves,
leaping and diving and throwing myself bellyfirst at them to joyride the
crest. It was wonderful, exhilarating. And then it went hideously wrong.

Out in the open sea, or in the expanse of the bay the waves are only a
metre/half a metre high. They lift you up and set you down. But near the
shore it is a different story. There is an expanse of lifting shore where
the land climbs up towards the beach, and it is difficult to climb as the
pebbles underfoot hurt and the waist high water makes it difficult to move,
to navigate.

In hindsight I really ought to have waited. Waves come in series after all.
I should have sat out and just chilled with a set of the big ones and then
climbed out. But my friend was on the shore having hysterics, and I
seriously thought she would have a heart attack, so in order to reassure her
I started wading towards her through the no man's land of climbing seabed
and waist deep water. I was still a metre from the shore when I began to
feel the pull of the sea, sucking the water back and I knew by the force of
it that the wave coming, rising, behind me was a big one. I also knew that
even with adrenaline there was no way I'd be able to make it to safe land in
time, for the seabed was tricky and my feet kept slipping as they struggled
for hold.

I half-turned around, and I saw the wave as a sheer wall of water towering
over me like a house. Like a bird of prey with wings outspread its foaming
crest a beak. Not blue this time, but a sort of moss green, dark with debris
and swirling grains of sand. I knew I'd never make the shore, and I thought
that probably the wave's greatest force would be when it starts to curl on
itself and comes crashing down. So I turned around and threw myself with
all my strength into the wave, kind of hoping to dive through it, but I was
no match for the sea. No person is. The wall of water closed on me, swatted
me down like a fly. The wave crushed me, gripped me, dragged me under and
across the sea-floor. By then I was panicking so much it made me waste my
air and swallow water, and all I wanted was to get out out out to where I
could breathe. Break free from te wave. I surfaced and I was sort of doubled
over completely disoriented, coughing and shaking and that's when the second
wave hit.

I didn't even see it coming. And when it dragged me under and slammed my
cranium against a rock I didn't see that coming either. I don't remember
much of what happened next, or who it was that rescued me.
No white light for me, just the dark beneath the thundering sea which stuffed itself into my lungs and mouth and nose.

I love how in Baywatch after a dramatic rescue the victim comes to with a few delicate coughs, their hair and makeup perfect and self-respect intact.

For me it was not quite that way.

Resurrection is as shocking as birth. In the wake of return to the breathing world my body hurt like it had been beaten with planks, my throat was raw, my lungs hurt mre than it ought to be possible for inner organs to do.I didn't so much cough delicately as retch and heave and proceed to spew liquids from every available facial orifice. Snot blood and tears.

The only faintly eoritc component would be that my bikini top had becme partially untied while I'd been doing the tango with the seafloor, which in the circumstances only served to further copound my embarassment.

I was in bad shape. My back and chest were scored with cuts and scratch marks from where the sea had dragged me across the rocks (I still have a scar on my shoulderblade from the deepest of the cuts), I had a concussion, I was severely disoriented and helpless as an infant, I could not see straighr or hear above the roaring in my ears, and to top it all I was producing some kind of horrible wailing sound that I couldn't figure out how to turn off.

Ever since then I'd say my relationship with the sea has never been quite the same (although in all honesty, ever since I saw Jaws aged nine I've only felt truly safe in the bathtub). Nowadays I still go in the water, but I feel anxiety all the same. I flinch at every wave.

And all this because I was reading the stories of the survivors on the Indonesian islands who ran for the jungle to escape the water and how all of them are terrified of the sea now. And I thought about my own long ago date with the ocean, and of the people who didn't survive. The ones who got trapped in their houses by the rising water and just for an instant behind my shut lids I could picture them floating. Their open mouths. The gentle weaving of their anemone hair.

Comments

( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
grazia
Dec. 29th, 2004 06:48 pm (UTC)
my most dramatic near-drowning was when i was in high school and my girlfriends and i decided to go for a spontaneous swim. they stripped down to panties & bras but i wasn't wearing any panties and decided that i could go swimming in my jeans. not smart. it was like swimming with a lead blanket wrapped around me.

coughing up salt water hurts, doesn't it? ugh.

e
rainsinger
Dec. 29th, 2004 09:42 pm (UTC)
coughing up salt water hurts, doesn't it? ugh.


Yes it does. My throat felt as if it had been burned.
Not fun at all :(

I'm kidn of glad you've shared your experience with me, because I've been thinking that I'd never gone sweimming in my clothes and whether it would be fun to try it when I'm next at the seaside, but now I'm starting to think twice.
grazia
Dec. 30th, 2004 07:29 pm (UTC)
no, DON'T go swimming in your clothes! unless it's a gauzy white frock or something like that, which sounds as if it would be quite romantic.

i think i thought that swimming in my jeans would be romantic - and i'm quite a good swimmer - but it was shockingly impossible.

e
mindslant
Dec. 29th, 2004 08:00 pm (UTC)
My drowning experience
I was four in Long Beach, California swimming by myself because it was winter and much too cold to really be swimming at all. My lips were purple and my parents were aftraid Child Protective Services might be called on them for letting me freeze my way to hypothermia. I swam out too far and tried to bodysurf a wave which I did successfully for a great few moments. When the wave crashed so did I. I was rolled under and couldn't begin to guess where 'up' was. The only clear sane thing I can remember is that I'd rather be burned alive than to drown again. I still love to swim, I'm like an otter with a distaste for clams.
mindslant
Dec. 29th, 2004 08:00 pm (UTC)
My drowning experience
I was four in Long Beach, California swimming by myself because it was winter and much too cold to really be swimming at all. My lips were purple and my parents were afraid Child Protective Services might be called on them for letting me freeze my way to hypothermia. I swam out too far and tried to bodysurf a wave which I did successfully for a great few moments. When the wave crashed so did I. I was rolled under and couldn't begin to guess where 'up' was. The only clear sane thing I can remember is that I'd rather be burned alive than to drown again. I still love to swim, I'm like an otter with a distaste for clams.
rainsinger
Dec. 29th, 2004 09:44 pm (UTC)
Re: My drowning experience
Although I'm not keen on doing either, I think if I absolutely had to choose I'd still pick drowning over fire because I think drowning would be quicker.

was rolled under and couldn't begin to guess where 'up' was.

Yeah. *shudder* That loss of a sense of direction is terrifying.

Who got you out of the water?
mindslant
Dec. 29th, 2004 10:01 pm (UTC)
Re: My drowning experience
I could only assume the Diety of Frantic Limb Thrashing and Buoyancy.
minnesattva
Dec. 29th, 2004 08:56 pm (UTC)
You always write well, but I like this a lot. Which is not to say "Oh I'm so glad you've had harrowing experiences so you can make nice sentences about them!" You know what I mean. ;-)
mzdt
Dec. 29th, 2004 09:17 pm (UTC)
couldn't have put it better myself...
concordantnexus
Dec. 29th, 2004 11:53 pm (UTC)
Ottawa's westernmost bridge across the Ottawa/Outaouais River has a lot of rapids.

When I was a young (and utterly stupid) teenager we were playing in the smaller rapids. I was wading through waist deep running water when I slipped on the slime-covered rocks. My two female friends thought that I was a goner. I got pulled under by the current for at least 10 metres. Luckily I did not hit my head on one of the countless boulders, managed to keep my cool, grab a boulder, right myself and wade back out to where my friends were waiting.

If I hadn't managed to grab onto a rock and get out, I would have shot some fairly serious rapids (the kind that one usually uses a kayak or canoe to shoot), likely gotten dashed against some rocks and subsequently drowned since I've never been a particularily strong swimmer.
rainsinger
Dec. 30th, 2004 12:35 pm (UTC)
Good thing you managed to not panic!

I'd had no idea so many people had so many harrowing water escapes.
concordantnexus
Dec. 30th, 2004 04:54 pm (UTC)
It happened too quickly for me to panic.

Mind you if I'd failed to grab onto something and right myself, I have likely panicked. It seems to me that panic starts to rise up when you realize that things aren't going your way in a potentially lethal way...
voiceofsauron
Dec. 30th, 2004 12:23 am (UTC)
My most harrowing tale with water involves my dad. Who is one of the gentlest and bestest person I know. I was playing, fooling around. I got too rough with him, I was nine. He threw me down. I had no idea where I was, which way was up. I had no air and I dispaired about reaching the surface.

I got there and took my berating by my father about it. I joke and I laugh but never under water. Never have I felt so scared about drowning.
dubaiyan
Dec. 30th, 2004 01:39 am (UTC)
anemone hair
just heard radio report about divers trying to recover the bodies stuck in rocks. a friend lives out there and until i hear back from her i can't relax!
rainsinger
Dec. 30th, 2004 12:35 pm (UTC)
Re: anemone hair
:(

*keeps all available things crossed*
good luck, i hope she's okay.
dubaiyan
Jan. 1st, 2005 01:03 am (UTC)
she is
oh God the relief!
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )

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