Tug of War

When I was seven years old my family took a trip to see one of my mom’s great aunts that she hadn’t seen since she was a little girl. It was a two thousand mile identity crisis. Unsure about her future, she made a desperate attempt to find out who she was by “getting in touch from where she came from”. The trip would have passed through my life like a specter had it not been for my father’s suggestion that we spend an afternoon at the beach.

I did not understand my father’s enthusiasm for this little adventure, but was grateful for any opportunity to escape my great-great aunt’s cat fortress. As I crested the small hill that obscured the water from where we parked I froze. In my head I had pictured a larger version of the lake we went to with our neighbors back in Nevada. This was not just bigger. It was wholly different.

The water spread out before me like a tangible twin of the sky. This body compelled my attention. I was in the presence of greatness and suddenly felt very small and wholly insignificant. I wanted so badly to touch every piece of it, but the magnificence of what lay before me cast out any doubt that I might be worthy to feel a single drop on my skin.

It took an hour before those feelings began to subside. I would not go within ten feet of the water’s edge. My family laughed and joked that I was afraid. They were right, but it was not the simple fear they assumed me to have.

When I first approached the water, I came with the awe it was worthy of. I closed my eyes and let the waves whisper to my toes. Entering deeper I learned one of the great secrets of my life. Wave after wave drifted toward the shore with the gentle rhythm of a pulse. They could be seen and felt. Anticipated. But the great waters carried another kind of wave.

The sun, the birds, and the air I took for granted were ripped from my life as the undertow grabbed me and pulled me into the darkness. Salt stabbed my eyes as I was tossed to and fro. Fear and awe swirled inside me as the tug of war between the light and the depths commenced. I was ripped free of any hold the light held on me and swallowed in the grasp of the water. Then, having proved it’s might, I was released.

Freedom became something new to me. At first, I didn’t know what to do with it. Then, as my lungs started to burn, I remembered the light. I clawed up from the deep with all my strength and when I broke the surface the air welcomed me as a mother does a lost son. I rested in that embrace, but could not shake the effect of being so completely held by the waters below.

Later, sitting on my towel and staring at where the sky kissed the water, I still felt the tug of war.

Copyright © 2012 Adam Drake

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9 comments

  1. Air is the easiest thing to take for granted until you don’t have any. The ocean is my favorite place to be, but drowning in her depths, you realize that your last breath, instead of relieving the pounding torture, is going to hurt beyond belief. I’m glad the undertow let you go!

  2. I’m trying to write a story in first-person(something I haven’t done yet in my writing) and I love reading stories that really pull off first-person. And I felt your characters struggle, maybe because I had a similar experience when I was around seven where I almost drowned because of an undertow. It’s amazing how words can strike up a feeling so powerful you feel you’re getting sucked into the water.

    1. Thanks. This story is not very typical for me. I am usually plot/dialogue focused, but this one came out when I was working through some personal stuff and I guess it showed. I love your blog. Thanks for taking a moment to share your thoughts.

        1. You could be “1 Story a Month” and together we would rule short fiction across the world! Then I could get season tickets and a wife and you could, well… you can get whatever you want! (Ok… That might be taking it a bit too far…)

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