…or My Brush with Death (stop laughing, Jaunty!).
Yeah. So here’s the thing. I don’t really like the ocean. Jaws ruined me. Plus, you can’t breathe in the water, which I find disconcerting. I’m not a bad swimmer; I’m not a really strong swimmer, either. But when it came time to snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef during my recent trip to Australia, I didn’t want to miss out. Once in a lifetime chance, yadda yadda.
In the promotional ads and brochures, they show this very attractive couple frisking about in shallow water. Stand-up kind of water. They didn’t show the boat dropping you off in choppy seas with waves breaking on the sharp and jagged coral nearby. But drop us off they did. “Into the water, darling, good on you!” the merry captain said, not realizing that seven-foot swells were daunting for some of us (me, for example). I immediately flashed back to the summer I was four, when my swimming instructor tossed me in the deep end of the pool (my first near-drowning), and the time my brother bounced me off the diving board and I cut my head (my second near-drowning) and the time my dad lost his grip on me in the rough surf of Cape Cod (my third near-drowning). Are you sensing a pattern?
Nevertheless, I jumped (fell) into the water and looked. And yes, it was magical. Life affirming. Surreal.
It was also frickin’ deep! Fifty feet of clear blue water. Sharks possibly swimming nearby, not to mention moray eels, giant squid and clams that might at any moment clamp down on my leg and hold me underwater, like in that movie I saw when I was six. Did I mention potential sharks lurking nearby?
Lucky for me, McIrish, sainted husband and rescue swimmer, LOVES the ocean. So he held my hand, and we snorkeled away. Pretty fishies everywhere. Coral. Cool plants. More beautiful fishes. No sharks (that I could see), no giant clamping clams. There was, however, a great deal of saltwater, and while I do know not to drink it, I kept popping my head up (to see how far we were from the boat), and to take the snorkel out of my mouth, because I was freaked out from breathing through a plastic tube. And apparently, I swallowed some sea water.
Five minutes or an eternity later, I said to McIrish, “I need to go back to the boat. I don’t feel so good.” And then I puked. And when I puke, my throat closes up. Not in an allergic, Epi-pen way…just in an “Oh, gross!” kind of way. It caused something I hadn’t foreseen: a feeding frenzy. Disgusting, I know, but there was my Bircher Muesli, and there was the feeding frenzy. As I tried unsuccessfully to breathe, McIrish grabbed me in traditional rescue swim hold and began waving down the lifeguard. Who didn’t see us. My throat opened long enough for me to puke again. I mentally apologized to my fellow snorkelers, though hoped they would appreciate the thick cluster of fishies who were enjoying my breakfast.
A tiny German girl came swimming toward me like a Labrador, strong and brave, and gave me her floatie. Another swimmer came to hold my other arm. I began making elk-like, bugling noises as I sucked in air, then puked again. McIrish kept yelling, and I heard the engine of the rescue launch fire up. The whole time, I was thinking, “This is nasty/I knew I wasn’t meant to swim/Keep kicking so you don’t drown/Are there any sharks nearby?”
Then the rescue launch was there, and the mate cheerfully told me he was going to haul me into the boat, did the same, said, “Did you swallow salt water, darling? That was stupid of you, wasn’t it?” and took me back to the boat, where another crew member patted my shoulder and laughed. McIrish, who often rescues people in distress, was rather touchingly affected, since the vic was also his wife, and kissed me repeatedly, vomit-breath notwithstanding. The other 67 passengers were quite solicitous (hey, it’s not every day you get to see the rescue launch deployed), and seemed quite fond of me, as I’d made them feel better about themselves.
At the next stop on the reef, the water was calmer. Did I want to go in again? I did. This time, I kept my mouth shut.
And hey. It’s not everyone who can add “rescued at sea” to her list of life accomplishments.
As I’m filled with gratitude at still being alive, how’s about I give away a book to one of you? Leave a comment, and I’ll send one of you a signed copy of MY ONE AND ONLY, in which our hero and heroine have their own brush with death, though theirs happens on land.