I woke up this morning thinking about the time I ended up in the Salish Sea with no life jacket.
The ocean water off the San Juan Islands in Washington is very, very cold… even in the middle of summer. My middle daughter and I ended up unexpectedly in the water on a boating trip with no life jackets on. My daughter was about 14 years old and neither of us has ever been great swimmers. The water is so cold, it’s shocking.
My first thought was to get her head above water. I opened my eyes in the water to look for her… so extra shockingly cold on my eyeballs. After that, it was to keep her calm. Calm and focused. After the initial shock that takes your breath away, water that cold hurts. Your arms, legs, fingers, and toes start to hurt right away because it’s just so cold. My daughter was panicked. I was too… but refused to show it because it would only scare her more. I kept telling her to be calm, breathe and keep treading water… they were coming to get us. After the pain stops, you can’t feel your limbs. This happens really very quickly.
My daughter started telling me she couldn’t keep treading water, that she couldn’t even feel if she was doing it and several times started slipping beneath the water again. She kept saying “I can’t do it.” … All I could think was “that’s not an option… not on my fucking watch”. I made her look in my eyes and I told her “Keep moving your arms and legs. You do not have a choice – you can, and you will keep moving.” I continued to reassure her they were almost back around to us; everything was going to be okay. At one point I told her she could hang on to me and just move her legs, but that became instantly clear it was not an option – I could not stay above water with the added weight of her holding on. I don’t know how long it really was, but every minute felt like an eternity.
Staring into each other’s eyes, I just kept repeating “move your arms and legs, you can do this, just keep moving… just focus on me and keep moving… giving up is not an option”. When they finally got to us, I told them to get her first. It seemed to take another eternity to get her into the zodiac… she was deadweight and could not even help herself get in the boat. I remember watching and thinking I should be able to help push her in… but I could not. All I could do was watch and try to keep moving my arms and legs. There was nothing to hang on to on the rubber boat. I was reaching up trying to find some way to help myself stay above water while they pulled her in… there was nothing to grab, and my arm was so heavy.
There was a moment when I thought to myself that I was just going to slip under… that I had no more energy left… but then I told myself that I could not – I would not allow that because it would harm my daughter too much. I would not allow that to happen to her. The cold had seeped so far into me that even breathing was hard. It was as if my chest was too cold to allow movement of air. I just tried to inflate my lungs as much as possible and hold my breath to help with some sort of buoyancy. Focusing only on just one more moment… and just one more moment. ..Then they started pulling me in. There was nothing I could do to help… I also was pure deadweight. As they dragged me up and over the edge of the zodiac, the rubber raft that had always seemed so soft and low now seemed so far above the water and the rubber was giving me abrasions… scraping my skin off as they dragged me over it.
It took me all day to get warm again, even after a hot shower on the main boat. The hot water now felt foreign to my skin. I remember wondering how the skin on my leg can feel so cold to the touch when I’m standing in hot water. That night I did not sleep well. I was very angry about a few things… I was angry that a summer day could be so deceptive. I was angry my husband didn’t see what a big deal this was. I was angry that I hadn’t realized how quickly that cold water took over your body and from now on no matter what their age my girls would be always in life jackets when on this or any other boat. And I was angry at how quickly she had decided she couldn’t survive and was ready to give up. In summary – it was stupid. Someone could have died, and that part was preventable. And worst of all, my daughter did not have the “inner fight” she needed if she was alone. This fact I would need to work on.
While fussing about all these things in my mind, wishing I had my laptop to type it all out, I quietly walked the boat. I went to the flybridge and sat down, pondering the black water all around the boat… extra menacing looking in the dark. It was then that I happened to look up. I saw the most amazing thing. I was confused for a moment feeling like this is more than stars – this is… something… it was spectacular. Then my brain clicked, and I knew it was the Milky Way although I had never seen it before. It almost felt close enough to touch – it was so low in the sky over me. I went and woke the girls and the friends they had each brought on the boat and made them all come up to the flybridge and lay on their backs and look up at the beautiful sight.
Why did I wake up thinking about this? Because I feel like I’m drowning… I want to let go and let myself slip under… but I fucking can’t. Because I’m a fighter. I don’t give up. I don’t give in. I survive… And I might see the Milky Way again someday or the Aurora Borealis if I’m particularly lucky.
Yesterday I started doing Instacart deliveries. I only made about $8 an hour… today I will get faster and more efficient… It took all day to earn less than I make doing one loan signing… all day to earn what I make in 20 minutes when my REO business is going… but I don’t know how to be someone who gives up or stops trying. I’m tired. How long can I tread water?