Karissa held Lulu tightly. They splashed and chased the waves. All was fun and sunshine and laughter.
Until it wasn’t.
The ocean is a fickle thing.
At first, I couldn’t tell if they were in trouble, but then the water just kept coming. Lulu already on her hip, Karissa reached out to catch an unknown toddler from being tumbled by the wave.
And then they all went down.
I started jogging from the shore towards them. Lulu is not going to like getting wet like that, I thought. Then, there were screams from behind me. I turned, too late to realize that the water had kept coming. As I looked, the same wave took Dom out mid-thigh, knocking him flat on his back.
Two angry wet kits, great. This trip is over, and we just barely got here.
I went to scoop him up, but, again, failed to realize that the water just kept coming. I fell. Water filled my boots, sand filled my pockets. I looked up just in time to see Dom surge past me, rolling north, up the shore.
The sand pulled my arms and legs, dragging me down, weighing me down. But as I watched the water continue to rise and Dom continue to roll, the panic started, replacing my blood with adrenaline.
I ran. Boots sodden. Leaden. And Dom kept rolling, just beyond my reach.
“Oh God! Dominic! Oh God, Oh God, Oh God!” I said. Screamed? Whispered? I couldn’t tell. I was just running. All I could do was watch for his tiny face as he tumbled through the shin-deep water. Sometimes floating face up, eyes blinking quickly in surprise. Sometimes floating face down.
“Oh God! Dominic! Dominic!” I ran. I ran as fast as I could. The water kept pulling him away. I watched as a stump about his size rolled next to him, over him, floated past him. OhGodOhGodOhGodOhGod.
And I ran. I tripped. My boots slogged through the water, lead weights sinking my body into the sand while my racing Mama-heart tried to fly ahead of me. Tried to will the water to stop. Tried to control the entirety of the sea.
Still I ran.
But I could not run fast enough.
I was never going to reach him. He was going to roll and tumble for eternity. And I was never going to catch him.
I know, now, how babies are ripped from their mothers in a tornado, or drown crossing the sea… Subconsciously, naively, I believed I would just hold tighter, swim harder…run faster.
But I could not run fast enough.
“Oh my God!” came from behind. And then someone ran past me. Ran faster than me. Bare feet, long legs, breaking free of the sucking tide. Simultaneously jealous of his stride and encouraging it, I watched him run towards Dominic.
And I kept running.
He dove, planting himself around Dominic, scooping him out of the tumbling wet, clutching Dom’s small body to his big chest.
And I was there.
Finally, my traitorous legs delivered me to my son. And he was in my arms. And he was crying. And it was the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. More beautiful than his laughter, more beautiful than his daily “Mama!”. More beautiful, even, than his very first cry.
They’re called sneaker waves. The waves that come out of nowhere, and just keep coming. But… Sneaky seems too innocent. Dominic and Lulu are sneaky. The waves that beat them down, tumbled them around, seemed more sinister. Or maybe more indifferent. They need a different word: striker or tumbler or drowner.
Only later did I hear from Karissa that the waves just kept tumbling she and Lulu. At some point, as she clutched my daughter, she didn’t know what was up or down and feared she wouldn’t be able to figure it out before they both drowned.
But her knees felt sand and she dug in. Holding fast, holding solid, knees battering against the ripping tide. She looked up in time to see a hand, a hand that pulled them out of the water, and then she ran to the shore.
Lulu was screaming, Dom was screaming, and we rushed up the steps to escape the sea. Our dripping bodies were greeted by curious stares and a genuine, “Are you alright?” from a few. Apparently, when the screaming started, someone had vaulted the 10 foot cement view point to help the people below. Karissa’s saving hand, perhaps? Collapsing in the sunshine, we caught our breath and flooded the sidewalk with salty water and salty tears.
Our blankets, laid intentionally on dry sand, were washed away. Our phones, once tucked in our pockets, are buried in the bottom of the ocean. Useless bricks for some future treasure hunter. Camera? Ruined.
But my people? All safe. All healthy. All whole. Because, there were many, many angels with us in those terrifying minutes and in the hours after… ethereal and corporeal. They held my daughter tight. They caught my son when my arms weren’t long enough, and my legs not fast enough. They covered us in blankets. Found my keys. Found Dom’s favorite car (brrm brrm). They listened to Dom’s lungs, and offered us free showers to wash the sand from his big blue eyes.
There are lessons to be learned: Don’t trust the ocean. Teach my kids to be brave people of action like those who helped us. Hold tightly to the Little Ones. etc etc
But I’m not in the lesson-learning phase yet.
I’m still in the trauma phase.
Regardless of miracles I saw and felt, I find myself stuck, playing the loop of Dom being pulled by the current over and over and over. He was in the water for 30 second? 45 seconds? A minute? I have no idea. Those seconds passed as an eternity for me. An eternity is plenty enough time to scar a heart. I can’t even get started on the “what ifs” without the panic rising: What if Mo had been there too? What if I had gone alone, like I originally planned? What if Dom’s savior hadn’t been on the beach? Would I have watched him float face down until the water receded? What if, what if, what if?
And I have to stop.
Because those thoughts are just like that surging tide. They will sweep me away to a dark, drowning place where it is impossible to take a breath.
And so I look at my kids. My kids who are still breathing. My kids who seem remarkably unscarred by the whole thing. And I try to pause the terrifying loop. I try to hold my scared and scarred Mama-heart tenderly, and tell myself to let go of guilt and shame and all those unforgiving Mama-feelings.
I hold Dom on my lap. The tears come, and I work on catching my breath. In and out. In and out. Hold him tight. Pause the loop. In and out. In and out.
And once I can come up for air again, I exhale a battered thank you into the top of his head.