I haven't thought about it in years but I don't think the memory will ever leave me. It's not as present and up front as the NICU or my niece, but it's there. It always will be there. And I think I will always wonder.
It was my junior year of high school and the only year I swam for the high school swim team. I normally swam for our base's age group team but I really, really wanted to swim in college. I thought I would need to swim with the high school team for this to happen.
Instead of the closeness and friendship of the age group team, I found people who used drugs. Bullies. An abusive coach. It wasn't what I wanted or hoped for. It was so hard. But I wanted to swim so bad that I stayed.
One day, the pool was being used to train saliors so we trooped to the beach. It was an overcast day, the clouds low and grey and angry. The waves were crashing into the shore and it was a red-flag warning; it was dangerous enough that if we went out swimming and got in trouble, the lifeguards did not have to save us.
I didn't want to go in.
I don't like open water swimming. I was a strong swimmer, able to do the 400 IM and I loved swimming the mile. Still, the waves were high and strong and... fish and seaweed. Ew.
Inspite of my protests, my coach got in my face and ordered me in, that our practice was going to be in the ocean today. I needed to get over myself and get in. I can't remember the exact words but I remember his face in front of me, yelling. I remember the waves hitting the sand, the flat sky and the spray coming up through the cracks in the rocks.
I was a goody-two-shoes in high school. I toed the line, obeyed the rules. I had good judgment but I went against it and I went in.
I don't remember exactly how it happened, but the waves crashed over me. My feet left the sand and I was pulled, somersaulting, out to the ocean. I managed to plant my feet on the ground and staggered up for air, trying to reach the beach but it happened again. And again. And again.
I was going to die. I was going to die right there, in that ocean. I was going to die. I thought of my boyfriend, my best friend, my parents and siblings. I thought of God. I hoped it would be painless but I was terrified.
And then I was up on the beach, staggering forward and no wave hit me. I saw our team captain crawling forward before laying prostrate on the beach, her face buried in her arms. One of the other girls asked if she was okay and she nodded but didn't lift her head. I don't know if she was crying or breathing or praying- but I remember her still form in her black team suit, her red brown ringlets coming down around her shoulders.
The team staggered up to the open air showers on the beach, complaining of sand in places the girls didn't want sand, spitting out the ocean water that we swallowed. As we crowded under the spray, the others chatted about how the beach is called "Breakneck Beach." We laughed and joked and knew we were damn lucky.
At home, I took a proper shower, threw on a sweatshirt with a cartoon cat on it and lay on my bed, shaking. I had been close. I had seen my 17 years flash before my eyes. There was no reason why I was alive and I had been very, very stupid.
A few days ago, an e-mail went out saying that the teenage son of one of the teacher's at my sons' school had been injured in a swimming accident. Like I was, he was a strong swimmer but got caught in the waves. Unlike me, he did not walk away unscathed. He's in the hospital and will be in rehab for awhile. I don't think he was stupid to go swimming in the ocean- it just happened. Sheer stupid bad chance.
I know how it happened, I've been in the same situation and, frankly, I probably should have ended up like him. I didn't- by the grace of God? Sheer dumb luck? I don't know.
I've wondered- always wondered- why two people can be in similar situations and one has a "good" outcome and one has a "bad" one. Two babies born at the same gestational age, in similar health.... why does one go home and one doesn't? Two car accidents- one person goes home, one doesn't. I don't have the answers. I wish I did but then I suppose I would be God and I'm not sure I want that job either.
I have asked "Why?" more times in the past five years than I ever have before. With this news, it's on my mind even more so, so much that I woke up in the middle of the night, my mind racing. I took my medicine to calm myself down, which has given me a pretty chill morning. Be anyone thinks I am completely nuts (I am nuts- not fully though!) or overreacting- it's April. Any time other than April, I would have been sad but not needed the meds.
I wonder, someday, if we will all know why. Why, why, why. Why one person, one teenager, one baby and not the other. Why.
Please keep this family in your prayers- I know they are thankful for them.