Supposedly, the calm after the storm is wonderful; I say it’s devastating. It is only then when you can clearly see what you have lost.
The crystal Caribbean Sea is so quiet and smooth; like a blue mirror, reflecting dusk’s vivid colors of tangerine, lavender, and a deep sapphire that spills across from the opposite side of the sky. The sun starts to settle into its next gig, sinking into the horizon and inviting the night to take over. As the evening moves from East to West, a trail of diamonds gently illuminates the soft ripples in the water.
All of this beauty and all of the beauty in the world mean nothing to me, for I have lost all that matters. The love of my life died in that storm when it overtook our sailboat. We were on a romantic tour of the islands; living our dream. I could never adequately express how strong our love was. We were meant to be together. We did nothing apart. We could spend weeks at sea, just the two of us, and do nothing but laugh and love. Now, I am left behind. All I have is our lifeboat, a life vest, and a piece of his shirt.
I’m not sure how long the actual event lasted. It felt like seconds from the first wave of the squall until I became a castaway. One minute we were resting in each other’s arms, enjoying an early evening nap, feeling the gentle motion of the boat while the autopilot kept us on course. Then, an apathetic storm tossed our bodies around the v-berth. We assured our legs, radioed for help, and lowered the dingy. He tossed a life vest to me as he prepared to lower the anchor.
So much water was coming in. The motor died.
Why was he trying to lower the anchor? The engine was dead. The swells were now well above five feet. He was panicking. I yelled at him to stop. But, the wind and waves stole my words. I moved closer.
So much water at my legs.
Our beloved sailboat, “Fate” was being pulled into the sea.
The anchor finally gave way. I grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the dingy. True horror now swept across his face as he tried to move toward me. The anchor chain quickly unraveled under the swells like a possessed water snake. His leg and cargo pants were caught up in the unwinding mess. The boat tipped, and so did he. My grip from his hand slipped to his shirt. Instinctively, I reached out and grabbed onto him with both hands.
I was wrong. The entire event didn’t happen in seconds; it was milliseconds. The anchor dropped, he went with it, the boat sank. As the power of that heavy iron fell, his shirt ripped off his body, which was all I had left in my hands.
I climbed into that rubber death boat, clinging to his faded blue shirt.
Fate had been our dream, yet it pulled him into the depths of foreverness without me. And there I now was, alone, watching the storm wreck havoc in a remote part of the watery edge, while a beautiful sunset dazzles as some act of contrition on Mother Nature’s behalf.
Anger, sadness, fear pulse in and out of my heart and to my brain. Sobbing and screaming become one noise. Literal pain stabs my heart. And then exhaustion, and probably shock, knock me out.
It isn’t a restful sleep. Between the night and dawn, my mind replays our first date. I see my parents, my nieces and nephews, and then the unpleasant repeating image of his hand reaching to me from the bottom of the sea. When I finally regain full consciousness, the sun is once again at work high above me in the sky.
That “friendly” sun, the opposite of the storm, starts to beat on me. Any drop of moisture is wicked out of my mouth. My tongue feels like a dry sponge searching for something to make it once again fresh and plump.
A low growl comes from my belly. There are a couple of old water bottles in the storage compartment. I down one in a gulp. I vomit it out just as fast as it went down. Then, I dry heave over the edge of the life raft and pass out for a little while longer.
When I awake, it is the evening. Another day has passed and the night sky does it’s usual beautiful dance with the sun until the dark curtain has dropped and the show is over.
In those shadowy moments, when the waves slap against the side of the rubber boat, all I can see is that instant replay in my mind. Over and over again, I see him sinking as if there was nothing I could do. But, I could have done something. I was the “sailor.” Fate was my dream. I knew never to drop the anchor with a dead engine and swelling ocean.
Yet, I watched him do it and just wondered why. Not only did I watch him, but I watched him struggle with getting the anchor loose. The instant water lapped at our ankles on a 38-foot sailboat without a spot of land around us, I should have pulled him into the lifeboat immediately. We should have abandoned ship. Yet, I let him drop the anchor and sink.
Over and over again I play this scenario in my mind. I want to be at the bottom of the ocean with him.
Another night has passed. I’ve learned to sip on the water rather than chug. Hunger pains and sunstroke set as part of who I am. A pulsing headache practically blinds me. Or, maybe it is the bright sunshine sparkling off the water. Either way, it fucking hurts. But, I deserve the pain. He’s dead, and I’m alive.
There are very few noises. My faint heartbeat and breathing, the slapping of the waves, an occasional cry from a bird, and then the drumbeat that pounds endlessly in my head.
Through the throbbing pain I heard a faint horn, which becomes louder and another component of the pain.
I lift my weighted head to see a large powerboat coming closer. Bodies on board scurry about the deck. I recognize signs of joy and elation in their movements. They’ve been looking for us. But all they’ve found is me. With all my strength, I pull the blue piece of cloth close to my heart. The sun is getting ready to set again, just like when the storm hit.
A large hook grabs one of the ropes of my dingy. In another millisecond, the heroes are pulling my feeble self onto their large boat. I hear cheers, yet I don’t have the strength to respond. They wouldn’t want to hear my response anyway.
I don’t want them to save me. I don’t want to live. I want to be with him.
They cover me in a blanket and try to make me drink water. I let it dribble down my face, as I cry dry tears.
My heroes voices are faint echoes. I can make out that they are going to drop anchor for the night. I seem stable, at least physically they say.
The image of him sinking and reaching won’t stop playing in my mind’s eye. We had been together for 45 years. We met when we were 19. He was my soulmate. Life didn’t exist without him.
The engine idles keeping us in place, and I hear a little pop, like when you release a ball you’ve been holding under water. A boat placard has popped out from deep in the sea – upon the wooden sign is the word “Fate” etched in golden letters.
Our boat and he must be right underneath us. The crew was going to drop anchor right where we sank.
A strength that could only come from a fire fueled by pure love jolted through my body. I tied my leg to a rope and then to the anchor. No one was paying attention to me; they were too busy celebrating and getting ready to call it a night.
The crew prepared to release the anchor. As the massive piece of metal fell into the ocean, a smile came across my face. I watched the chain unfurl, and my body soon swiftly followed. Their cries echoed in my head even as I quickly sank into the depths. The deeper I go, the more pressure builds. First in my ears, then in my chest and head. I try to hold my breath as long as I can. I hit bottom.
My hands claw at the sandy ocean floor, searching for air as if somehow my fingertips could breathe. In their efforts, they touch a familiar object. My open eyes strain through the salt and darkness. There he is.
I quickly pull the slip knot I tied to my leg so they cannot retrieve me.
I grasp his open hand and look into his eyes, which are open and seemingly smiling. I release the blue piece of cloth and pull myself closer to him. I finally let the water fill my lungs.
We are together once again, apart never again. We survived.
You can buy the artwork, Slipping Under by Jen Hallbrown, featured in this story here.