At Sea - Act II Part II
The sun gleamed on the ocean. The waves rocked the boat from side to side. My heart was in my chest. I couldn’t stop staring at the depths. We sat on the top of a world we knew nothing about. And my dad was going to force me into it. He had brought me here, off the coast of Islamorada, to introduce me to the love of his life: the water.
I only agreed because of the ice cream he promised afterward. That and I didn’t have a choice. The entire problem with being a child: going on whatever poorly planned adventure your parents cook up. I stood on the edge of the boat. My hands curled around the line of the bumper. If I was going in, I was taking the boat with me.
His shadow covered me. His tone was reassuring and happy: Delmar, I named you after the sea—I want to introduce you to the world I love—will you trust that I’m not trying to hurt you?
The feeling of betrayal stayed with me to this day. My hands dropped the line against all orders from my brain. My father’s deep voice held more sway with my muscles than my own brain. He continued: I’m going to throw you in on three and then I’ll be right there with you.
The PA chimed:
Ok so here’s the plan. I’m going to open the door on three. Get a firm hold on the line, and I’m going to let you out slowly. You’ll be outside the ship for about twelve seconds then I’ll get you back in. This is going to be a shock so I’ll say this again. Do not. I repeat. Do not hold your breath. Your lungs need to be empty. Or very bad things will happen. It feels very wrong but it is how you will be ok after this. Do not hold your breath.
My father’s hands were under my shoulders. He lifted up and then set me back down with the cadence of his pep talk: It’s going to feel cold at first, take a deep breath, don’t panic, open your eyes and look at the world around you.
In the hull of a ship outside the planet HP-1345, Etan continued his pep talk:
Do not hold your breath, the shock will be jarring, do not let go of the line, keep your head about you, look around, and do not hold your breath.
The man in my memory and the man in my present spoke in unison: Ok we’re going to do this on the count of three—here we go:
I looked at the seagulls floating lazily in the Florida sky. They squawked at each other.
I looked at the eagles inked over Evert’s chest. A warning bell chimed over and over.
I was thrown from the deck into the air. The water lurched at me.
The door opened with a whoosh and the air was sucked from my lungs. Three The water embraced me and took me into a world of swirling bubbles, cold, and terror.
The vacuum surrounded me. The shock of the pressure made every atom in my body scream. I would have been screaming along with them if only I had air in my lungs. At both moments, in my past and present, one coherent thought echoed in the back of my mind: Never trust a sea captain to count. And just like that, I was pulled into the ink known as space.
The fleeing atmosphere of the ship pulled took us in its tow. I curled around the line, and shut my eyes as hard as I could. The weight space was crushing. It felt like the full weight of God was crushing me with his boot. And he did it silently without any mercy. All I could hear was the pulsing of my heart.
An eternity of seconds passed. I had to have been out here for a year. All my muscled clenched in a fleeting attempt to retain warmth. Across the backs of my eyelids lights sparkled and flashed. I was being bombarded with flecks of light in the deepest reaches of darkness.
Suddenly his voice was with me, deep and sure:
Open your eyes Delmar. There’s a whole world out there to see. Don’t you feel it all around you? Don’t you feel the waves? It’s an amazing place. All you have to do is open your eyes and look.
I felt the coolness of my father’s shadow on a warm Florida day. My muscles relaxed. My eyes opened. We hung there on a sinuous line. It floated in a lazy S. Evert and Shadi had their arms and feet wrapped around the line. Their eyes were clenched shut. I stretched out and, moving hand over hand, worked my way to Shadi. My hands felt cold and wooden but they still spoke the language of my mind. I slipped my hand under her mask to her cheek. She jumped at my touch. Her eyes opened wide. I hung there with one hand on her cheek and one holding onto the line. One of her hands wrapped around mine. I cracked a half smile and the corners of her eyes crinkled.
I moved up the line toward Evert. The ropes of his muscles were taut and shaking. He was going to squeeze the rope in half with his grip. I slapped his shoulder. I was surprised my hand didn’t shatter and break into a million pieces. Like a vase dropped on stone. I had to tap him twice more before he peeked out from one eye. His beard curled into a smile. Then his white teeth glinted in the eternal dark. He took my shoulder in his huge hands and we looked at HP-1345. It hung in the ink like a giant eye watching us. Its dusty color glinted off of the sea of ships. Emergency lights blinked at us. Short flashes of color for varying seconds.
Thousands of lights flashed their little stories. It looked like a school of fish swirling through a gray-metal reef. I was lost in the colors when I lost my grip. The line jerked and pulled toward the hull. My hands slipped. I tumbled backward. The reef of lights and the unblinking eye of Islamorada chased each other through the dark. The light from the ship reached for me but it couldn’t pull me in. I was falling. It was at that moment that I felt them. It was so faint at first that I almost didn’t notice.
But there it was. That faint tug and push. I could almost feel the tiny fingers tugging at my hair and pushing against my shoulders. The eternal cycle of ebb and flow. My vision clouded and the lights from the reef of ships, light, and people turned became broad strokes of color. I was at peace amongst the waves when something grabbed my ankle. My mind was slow to process. The coldness of the water felt nice against my skin. I was floating. I looked down and saw Shadi stretched out as far as she could reach. Her eyes were huge. I smiled.
So nice of Shadi to take a swim today. The ocean’s a big place. I’m glad we were swimming at the same beach. My eyes continued upward: Evert’s hand wrapped around her ankle. We held onto each other and floated on top of the surf, using each other’s bodies to float. Just like I used to do with my dad and brother. I closed my eyes and returned to the waves.