Daily Prompt: Safety First

I brought my kayak to the river’s edge, out of the swift current and into an eddy. I stepped out and threw off my life vest. The ground was solid – river rock, not the typical mud that sucked you down to mid-shin and had you wondering if you’d ever get out – and I wanted to walk around for a bit, stretch my legs, do some exploring.

Jim pulled his boat up near mine and got out. He left his jacket on and went out into the slow eddy, cooling off from the hot September afternoon.

The dogs, too, jumped out of the boats, happy for the opportunity to run. They had been swimming some, but mostly riding because the river was running high and fast after a record summer of flooding. The bike path along the river had been ripped out in spots and tossed aside, as if it was just loose, leftover driftwood from the last high water season.

097We had stayed off the river for most of the summer. It was just too dangerous. But, now that it was the end of the season and the water speed and level had subsided, we decided to try one of our regular floats through town, about ten miles from the put-in to the take-out, two to five hours depending on how fast the river was moving.

I happened to be watching Jim in the eddy, where he could easily touch the bottom and stand up if he wanted to, when all of a sudden the eddy’s current, counter to the main current, grabbed him, pulled him upriver about ten feet, pushed him out from the shore about twenty feet, and then, before there was time for me to worry, whipped him downriver and right to the spot where I had landed my boat, right to the shoreline.

He stood up, exhilarated. “Did you see that? That was awesome!” He took the ride two more times, the flow in the eddy taking him on the same path each time. “Come on! Come do this with me!”

“Nah. I don’t have my vest on. I want to walk around for a while.”

“Come on! It’s great!”

I really wanted to be off the water and out of my life jacket for a few minutes. But I didn’t want to ignore his enthusiasm and his invitation either. “How about you just hold my hand?”

“Okay.” And he grabbed it and we went for the ride.

But it didn’t turn out as it had the first three times. At least not for me. Jim’s body took the same path as it had before. But the river ripped me from Jim’s hand and as I was pulled, unbelievably fast upstream, I screamed, “Help me! I can’t make it!”

Of course, there was nothing he could do. It would make no sense for him to step out of the safety of the eddy and into the main current of the river. And he couldn’t swim upriver and get to me. Some great power beneath the surface had abducted me and was pulling me into it, like a space ship that zaps humans up into itself before anyone even sees it hovering above. As my head went under, I had one last glimpse of Jim standing there, in the eddy, looking at me, the smile of fun still on his face.

And then I was underwater. Against my will. Not far though. The river wasn’t that deep where I was. I don’t recall consciously opening my eyes, but I could see the riverbank to the side, a dark wall beneath the water, blurry green grasses against blue sky above, and, when I looked straight up, the limey green surface of the water was not far over my head. The bright sunshine streaked down, plunging into the water, beckoning me to it.

The light! I needed to get to the light.

My arms went up, but my fingers did not break the surface. That light – it was just inches from my fingertips. I started breast-stroking, in a vertical position. Pull, pull. The rhythmic words of swim coaches past, both mine and my daughters’, walking the deck alongside racing swimmers, chanting “pull, pull” each time their heads broke the water, echoed in my mind. I pulled harder, harder. And I kicked, kicked, surprised each time that my feet did not touch the bottom. How could it be this deep? And why couldn’t I get to the surface? I was a strong swimmer. I was in good physical condition.

I wasn’t panicking. It had happened so quickly that I was not yet out of breath. I was in no pain.

But then I knew. It didn’t matter. Didn’t matter how strong I was, how close I was. I wasn’t going to make it. The river was stronger, the forces great, the potency for destruction way beyond any understanding I had had before this day, this moment.

No! I screamed to myself. I cannot die this way. I am a swimmer. I am experienced in the water. I cannot die now. I have children. They need me. I’ve got plans, things I want to do. I cannot die here. Not where Jim stands waiting, the feel of my hand still fresh on his, my words—“Help me! I can’t make it!”—still hanging in the air.

But I knew I had no say in it. I couldn’t fight the river. A peaceful feeling began settling over me, the light infiltrating the green water above my head calming, the water surrounding me soothing, as it tends to be for those who have spent a lot of time in it. And I wasn’t opposed, really, to going if this was what God had in mind.

So this was it. I was going to die today. 46 years old. Two teenage daughters. My true love standing there, waiting for me to surface, to come back to him.

The light was no longer that light I needed to get to to go on living; it was now the other light, the one that brings us home. And so I gave in to it.

And I gave in to the river. I stopped fighting. And at that moment, the moment when I stopped pulling, stopped kicking, the river released me. It spit me out, like a cat lets go a mouse it’s been chasing, pouncing on, and batting around, no longer having fun with its prey.

Back on the river after my near-death experience.

Back on the river after my near-death experience.

Just as it had with Jim four times, the current shot me forward and it dumped me in the eddy, next to my boat, next to Jim.

Jim was where I had left him, now horrified, no longer smiling with the fun of the day.

I gathered my feet beneath me and stood up. Relief. Tears. Hugs. Reprimanding for letting me go out there without my life vest.

I didn’t realize it until I wrote this, but, now, I rarely take my life jacket off while on the river, whether I’m in my boat or walking on the shore. I never know when I might need to jump in—to play in an eddy, to help a friend, to get on down the river faster than I was planning on.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Layers

I love the layers and lines in this photo of our kayaks on an early summer afternoon. We are fortunate to have a river running right through town so we can get out on the water for a paddle in no time at all. The layers show the diminishing levels of the water after the spring run-off.



I Kinda Wanna Do It

One stroke and two seconds later. Or was it two strokes and one second later?

It was a short-lived thrill, for sure, but I know it lasted for a solid two seconds. Long enough for me to have these three thoughts:

What? I’m on the tongue already?

Where’s the big one?

That’s it? It’s over?

It was the 15 minutes leading up to it—the foreplay, if you will—that got my adrenaline going. Not the surge you feel while bungee jumping, but the slight dread of having to do something unexpected for which you’re not prepared and with which you may be unsuccessful. The feeling you get when you learn you’re about to give an impromptu speech. More