There’s a reason I couldn’t sleep last night. I kept waking up to make sure my 5-year-old was breathing, like I did when he was a newborn. I was being haunted. Haunted by the vision of him drifting out to sea. Haunted by the feeling of panic I felt once I swam out to grab him, and the realization I might not be able to get us in.
It all started at this place called Olga’s on Playa Pelada. We were meeting some new friends there who have a six and three year old. It was clearly a match made in heaven. There was a friend for everyone. Our husbands were the ones who originally met, sitting on their boards in the water, chatting in between sets. But the true magic happened once the women shook hands. It was one of those encounters in which someone you meet for the very first time feels like a dear friend you’ve known for years. She held a glass of cold white wine, let her children run naked, and when she laughed her face reminded me of Jackie, one of my soul sisters. I liked the way she spoke with openness, intelligence, and the F word. Within an hour we seemed to know each other deeply. She told me about her summer of transformation- how she earned her Ph.D., signed a contract to teach at a university, and went on a retreat in Arizona that changed her forever. She walked through some caverns, and came out the other side like Moana passing the reef. We talked about being a wife, mother, and woman, but in ways that offered raw parts of our hearts to each other.
All this was happening while our eldest children played in the ocean. I didn’t like how far out they were, but the dads were in charge, and when I expressed my concern, Josh said, “I’m watching them like a hawk, and am ready to jump in if I have to.” He even gave me the keys to keep in my purse. He’s the water-man, and the more over-protective parent, so I was like, “Okay,” and continued to watch Ash tote a stroller around the sand.
At some point I took Ash to the bathroom in the restaurant, and as I headed back down to the water, I passed Josh. He said, “I’ll be right back. I’m going to talk to someone about fishing. Jenn and Ian are watching the kids.” I continued to make my way to the shore, and met back up with Jenn, who was by herself as Ian was walking along the water with their youngest daughter. We picked up where we left off, talking about finding ourselves outside of motherhood, and in turn, greater confidence. When a lull hit the conversation we commented on how well our kids took to each other, and how good they were going to sleep that night. We were staring right at them when, all of a sudden, it seemed that Javin was staying on his back longer than he normally would while playing.
I ran into the water, which crashed against my shorts, and I screamed, “Are you okay?” He looked my direction but didn’t say a word. His blank face said everything. I swung the strap of my purse over my head and threw it down into the sand behind me. I swam as fast as I could, and grabbed my boy’s body. I felt huge rocks under my feet, and curled my toes around them for grip. I could feel the force of the water wanting to move us out, and as I looked toward the shore, I wondered if I was even going to make it. For the moment, having him in my arms was enough.
My fear of the ocean has always been strong, and my swimming ability, weak. I felt myself panic. Every inch I trudged forward, we were pushed back two. The rocks starting slipping out from under my feet, and I could only feel them with my pointed tip-toe. I yelled for help, and although my panic could have spun out of control, a voice of reason spoke to me, People are aware of the situation, and there are boats on the sand. You guys will be okay. Even if it got worse before it got better, I knew we’d survive, and that gave me the calm focus to do what I had to do. I continued to look for rocks when the water pushed out, and when it came in, we darted forward like runners hearing the starting gun. We were making our way, but when a local man ran into the water for us saying, “Are you okay?” my only response was an outstretched arm. He grabbed us both into his arms, and I couldn’t help but hug him. He checked Javin over, and asked, “Habla espanol?” I told him a little, and he said how dangerous it is to swim by the rocks because of strong currents. Gringos locos.
I held Javin with his belly against mine and his head resting against my shoulder. Both of our hearts beat like those of hummingbirds, and our minds were dizzy with both fear and relief. Josh walked back towards us, and when his eyes turned to question marks, I explained, “Yeah. I just swam out to save Javin.” His jaw dropped and his eyes widened, and then I said, with plenty of colorful language, that I pretty much never want to go to the beach again. Never mind that it was only the beginning of our Costa Rican vacation.
He grabbed Javin from me, and carried him off to talk. It felt too soon, at least for my needs, but Jenn swept in with a great big hug, and both of our torsos rattled against each others. When everyone came back together the mood was somber and the night was clearly ending, but from the dance floor of the restaurant, colored lights swirled all around and the kids looked up at us, hoping we’d let them wait for the DJ to play a song.
Javin quickly recovered, and he and his new friend spun each other around the concrete floor. Jenn and I danced with our toddlers on our hips, and the husbands watched from the door way. We walked out together after one more song, parting like old friends who would surely see each other soon. Ian, whose nature is quiet, pat me on the back and said, “You did really good” and it’s funny how much that meant to me.
As we were driving home, we replayed everything. We asked Javin what he felt and thought when out in the water, and he said, “Well, Ava asked me if I wanted to body surf, and I agreed. But when I tried to go in, I noticed I couldn’t. I was very scared, and thought I’d never see my family again.” Josh asked him if he drank water, and he replied, “Yeah, 200.” We both chuckled. Continuing to try to make light I asked, “So, am I your hero since I saved your life?” He said, “Mmm….kinda.” I don’t know what kinda BS answer that was but it doesn’t matter because I needed the laugh, and in the moment, I was my own damn hero.
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