I wasn’t a good swimmer. So I took a life jacket. And made sure to maintain company in case of anything. I also made sure to check every once in a while, that we were not that far from the beach.
Then I let myself be. I floated, I swam against the currents, I let my body be carried by the waves, I let the sun toast one side of my body before turning for the other side to have its fair share of the tan. We laughed. Split into many smaller groups. Rejoined. Split again. And off we were. Into the ocean. Safe. Happy. Joyous. Content.
This went on for two or so hours. Time stopped being of importance (hehe). We didn’t even go back to the beach for a break. I don’t remember being thirsty. We had talked enough. We weren’t tired. Not when waves were doing most of the swimming for us. We drifted. Lazy content seals in the water. Even took a picture or two.
There was no plan really. We just were. Safe and happy to swim the 8-4-4 system away. We were now officially out of school. We didn’t know what next. The only guaranteed next step was our graduation,a month away. The rest of our life was just beginning. We knew it wouldn’t be easy, some would get married, some would get jobs immediately, some would fly out, while the majority would hustle.
But at that moment, none of those things mattered. We were not worried. Not because we knew worrying has never added a strand of hair onto anyone’s head, but because either way we had no control over what would happen next in our lives. We had played our cards, now it would be life’s turn.
And so it was in the midst of all the above, that I found myself brushing shoulders with death. Fighting a tag of war with the grim reaper.
It was approaching 6pm in the evening. Since around noon, water starts coming back to the beach. We all knew that, precisely why most people swim in the afternoon. What we didn’t know, is that, the waves’ intensity increases as time goes by. Such that by night time, hotels near the beaches have to have some sort of wall( mostly made of sacks full of sand) to prevent the waves from crushing into their property.
Our group had been thinning out. But we hadn’t noticed it. Out of around 15 people, we were left 3. How it happened, none of us can tell. But we weren’t alarmed either.
Until a swimmer native to the coast brought along two of our colleagues, he had found them further away from where we were. Apparently, we had drifted off from what he would consider safe, even for excellent swimmers like him. He pointed out that the waves had increased greatly in strength ( something we had noticed but hadn’t thought it dangerous), and from where we were, they were pushing us to a creek. And once there, since there is no beach, its only a wall, the waves would crash us onto the walls. It would only take 2 waves for death to occur.
We panicked. But he was like there was still time. We could still get onto a near by beach in a few minutes if we started swimming towards it then. And with that he left us behind.
Apparently, without knowing it, we had swam away from the white sandy beaches. The waves we had been happily drifting with, had pushed us to the east. Now ahead of us, was a wall. Not a beach as we all thought. Meaning we couldn’t just swim to that place. Now we had to swim against the waves to reach the nearby beach.
And its like once we realized how much danger we were in, everything became worse. The waves started acting with vengeance on our poor swimming skills. The two ladies who had joined us started crying. Time started a marathon against us.
I don’t remember what I was thinking at that point exactly.
When you are drowning, you don’t remember who to blame or what could have been done to prevent this disaster or what went wrong where.
All I could think of at that point was how to survive. How to not die in the middle of a seemingly safe ocean swim. All my eyes could see at that point, was the nearest beach. And how not so near it was. I don’t even remember thinking about the waves. Except start to figure out ways of how to swim to avoid them taking me back 5 metres for every 1m I swam ahead.
The more effort i put, the less progress I seemed to be making. Others were fairing worse. Only one of us seemed to be making progress.
Drowning. We were drowning. In my head, I had always assumed that drowning meant drinking lots of water and sinking inside a body of water.
I had never realised that you could be breathing, seeing, floating, but still drowning. The waves would take us under for a few seconds, but we were breathing above water. Our lungs hadn’t collapsed. Our ears were full of water yes, but not enough to not hear. Yet we were drowning. Unless we got saved, we were facing imminent death with each passing wave. And the waves seemed to be going faster than time.
An year down the line, I find myself drowning, again. Just not in an ocean. And just like last time, I am breathing, I can hear, I can see, but yet I am drowning.
I had not noticed it happening. I do remember that two months ago I stopped enjoying reading. Something my soul derives immense pleasure in. I do remember noticing my enthusiasm for life wane. I do remember noticing that my anxiety levels had gone a notch higher. I also do remember feeling like cancelling on meeting my friends. Or turning up and my mind struggling to be present.
But just like that water incident, I saw no danger in those alarms. They are alarms yes, and there is a reason why they act as signals of how I’m doing internally, but how could I say I was drowning, yet I was breathing? How could I see death, yet the last time I checked, I saw some beach somewhere, never mind that, that was a really long time ago?
I think the worst moment of it all, is that moment when it hits you how bad it is. How close you are to losing it all. At that point, you don’t get paralysed. But there is this chilled wind that grips your inside. This clarity of thought that propels you forward even when the body wants to initiate a freeze response.
The shock that comes with that realisation of danger. That some seconds ago, I thought I was happy, safe and content. Now I know that I am in danger and I realise how hard it is to be safe given the current circumstances.
That shock. On Friday I walked from someone’s house. I felt so many things. Raw. Poked. Opened up. But what stood out from the rest, was shocked. I felt as if my insides had been turned inside out. And its not just about not liking what i saw there, I was shook by what I saw. Not of the things themselves, but of my inability to have figured that that’s how badly we were doing. That we had been drowning. I wasn’t shocked because I was drowning. I was shook that I didn’t know that I was drowning.
What comes next is help. Getting to a safe place within time. Fighting from death. But for now, I float around, breathing, seeing, hearing, and wondering… Is this how people drown?