April 8, 2007

A Day at the Beach

He gasped as he stepped into the surf. He knew the Atlantic was cold, but the chill surprised him every time. The waves were a little higher this time. The ebb tide had turned and high tide was again on the make. His friend and their kid had gone with his son to the outer sand bank about 50 yards offshore where the waves broke just a little bigger. There they could feel the waves crash into their bodies and take turns riding the boogie board on top of the waves for 15 yards or so.

He had made the trip out twice earlier in the afternoon. He could wade out about 30 or 40 feet then he had to swim out to the sand bank where the water was waist deep at best. He had promised his son one more trip out through the surf. When the time came, he begged off. The sun and day at the beach coupled with the two previous swims in the cold ocean to the sand bar had taken their toll; the man was tired. His friend said he would go and with his larger teen aged daughter and the man's small teen aged son they set out, calling him as wuss. The man's wife heckled him to go, reminding him he had promised his son. The man got to his feet with a sigh and followed the three into the surf.

At the sand bar the waves hit with more power than before, coming quicker and stronger with the growing tide. The water was not so cold once you got used to it he remarked. Soon the tide made it time to go in. The water level at the sandbar was now at the man's chest level as opposed to barely waist level a few hours earlier.

The man and his son started back. The son was an OK swimmer so he paddled on top of the boogie board. The man waded along for a few steps then was forced to swim. He would climb the swell with a strong breast stroke. He was forced to stop and tread water to stay with his son. The waves were growing larger. It took more effort to climb to the top of each succeeding wave. The waves came quicker and he urged his son to paddle faster. A wave broke over his head. He saw a large wave coming and swam to the top. In the valley he could feel the pull backward, he swam forward and moved only a few feet against the current. The pattern repeated. Now the swim to shore was fifty or sixty yards as opposed to the thirty before.

He urged his son to go quicker, a little panic creeping into his mind. His friends were far behind him. He swam to the top of another wave, his arms and legs beginning to feel heavy. Again he urged his son to hurry. He was smothered in the swell again, this time he swallowed the salty seawater. His arms and legs felt like lead. He could not swim another stroke. He tread water for a minute to see his son, now 10 yards behind him. Another wave. "Come on" he shouted. Another wave. Always a good swimmer, he could not believe he was struggling like this. Another wave. His legs would not move. Oh God, he thought, I am not going to make it. Another wave. The shore was too far. Another wave. He went under again. He tried to swim, but his arms would not work. Another wave. He rolled to his back, knowing if he could just rest a moment he would be fine. Another wave. He swallowed even more water. He called to his son to hurry, maybe he could rest on the board for a moment and catch his breath. Another wave. His son saw the worry on his dad's face and mistook it. He shouted back he was fine. Another wave.

The man drew on every bit of strength he could find and swam a few yards before he was pounded down by another wave, he was closer. He wife began running into the surf, she could see he was foundering. His friend told his daughter to hurry and they sped forward. The man could not move his arms. He went under to see if he could stand up yet, the bottom still was beyond his reach, maybe an inch -- maybe by feet. The effort to climb to the top of the swell was all he could muster. Another wave. He turned to look at his son, concerned he was OK. The boy was dog paddling with ease over the swell. Another wave. The man went under. Pure panic set in, but he could not move his exhausted limbs. He felt sorry for his family, he was embarrassed, he fought again, but the energy was gone. Another wave. He struggled, he thought his tired lungs would burst. Another wave.

He at last felt the bottom and was enveloped by a warm glow the likes of which he never felt before. He was calm, he was peaceful. He felt another wave crash over him. He was no longer tired. Another wave pushed his lifeless body toward the shore, just a few yards away.

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