In the last moments of most everyone’s life, they pray… but you never know who is going to answer …
It was my day off, and I was looking for a little sun, a little surf, a lot of relaxation. My two beautiful kids were home safe with my loving partner, and I was out on my board just letting the waves rock me between the deep blue of the ocean and the bright blue of the sky. There was no one else out that day, so I had no one to impress. It was all about me and the peace the water brought me, so I let it lull me into a false sense of security, as I know how dangerous the sea could be.
I hadn’t noticed the wave until it was already on top of me, no reason to panic, just roll under it, keep the board beneath me. Though this time, it all went horribly wrong. Something caught the back of the board, and the pointed tip came rushing up to strike me with violent force directly in my unguarded throat. My whole world went white.
I clawed my way up to the surface, the agony radiating from my neck, across my chest and up into my eyes. The air hit my face, but before I felt relief, I opened my mouth to take a breath, though my lungs could get no purchase. It felt like someone had their hands around my throat, squeezing. My lungs were demanding, I coughed, but it just brought blood into my mouth. My head was pounding, my chest burned, my arms and legs began to tingle and tighten. I gripped my surfboard with rapidly numbing fingers, and the waves bounced me in what felt like a violence. I could see the shore between the spots dancing around my eyes, but it was so far away and mostly empty.
The realization was staggering… this is it... this is how it ends.
Of course my thoughts went to my family. My children were too young to lose a parent. The heartache my partner would feel at my death. Would they ever find my body? Would they think I just abandoned them? Would they be poisoned forever by ambiguous loss?
And so I prayed.
Please don’t let this be it. Please give me just one more chance to love those I loved.
My arms could take no more as water began to rise above me, the agony in my heart was so much more resilient than the agony in my lungs, and I began to welcome the idea that they would both be ending soon. The surface of the water sparkled above my face, a kaleidoscope of sun and sky. That was the beauty I wanted today, and I was at least grateful it was the beauty I would be left with in my final moments.
Then the darkness of the depths came up to swallow me whole as the pain washed away.
“Everything comes with a price…”
Where was that voice coming from?
“… I can offer you one more chance…”
It seemed to rattle up from stones, ancient, almost hissing and liquid as it slithered through my mind as if I no longer had ears to hear it with.
“… will you take it?”
I had no lips to speak but the voice knew my consent as soon as I gave it.
Surrounded by darkness, but suddenly moving, I felt like I had been catapulted into the night sky. There was a rush of force and movement that sped me towards the only star in the distance, rapidly growing bigger as I flew near until I was swallowed whole in its brightness. Though rather than burning, it was cool and refreshing, I was awash with comfort as I breathed it in.
The sound of my heartbeat in my ears was first. Then came the feeling of the warm sand against my back. The salty sea air filled my lungs, and I had felt nothing as wonderful as its coolness drifting down my cleared windpipe. I opened my eyes to see the bright blue sky, and I was flooded with relief that I remained with my life.
I sat up to take inventory of my body, the ocean stretched out before me in its incomprehensible vastness, and though all pieces of my body remained whole, it somehow felt like it was no longer my own. The waves reached towards me with an air of possession. The blue of its depth no longer brought me a feeling of peace, but an fearful echo of how ancient it is.
I noticed heaviness in my palm, and I turned the contents up to examine it. A piece of lava rock, so porous and black the sun could not touch it. A blossom of coral that looked like a flower from another planet radiated rainbows of light. Lastly, a shell that swirled with the colors of the sea itself, only these colors ebbed and flowed when you were not looking directly at it.
I knew what I had to do, it was almost like I had always known… like it was a lesson I had been taught as a child and forgotten until this very moment. I had been chosen by the sea, and the sea would have what it owned. I signed away my soul for one more brief chance at life, but the sea is fickle even in its mercy.
I had until the sun set to decide how long my chance at life would last.
I could spend a year with my family without fear of sickness or injury, then on this very day next year I would return to the sea wherein it would swallow me whole, not only taking my body, but also washing away every single memory of my existence carried by those my life had touched.
I could imbue those items with the pieces of me I want my loved ones to carry within them forever… but only be given one short day to remain with them before the sea would take me.
How awful the sinking in my stomach, the feeling of horror at a complete and utter destruction of my own existence when I could not even live on in the memory of my loved ones. Do I have the strength to live and love them a year knowing they will never remember a single piece of it once I was gone? The futility was haunting. Though even just one day with them, to hold them in my arms and tell them they were the center of my world; that would be worth it.
So what pieces of myself deserved to live on after me?
It felt like turning myself inside out. I needed to dissect who I was as a person to determine my greatest strengths … which also meant facing my darkest elements. My quick wit got me in and out of a lot of trouble, creativity got me through some of my darkest hours, and my compassion helped others through theirs. These would be the gifts I could leave for those that I treasured... the most beautiful parts of myself. I focused on the trinkets in my palm, and I felt them began to warm up as they pulled from me my finest qualities.
Though in their wake I was left to swim in the darkness inside of myself without their light to keep me afloat. I was filled with bad choices and was drowning in the most painful of them all… selfishness. I was overwhelmed by the hurricane of mistakes I made solely to nourish my own ego.
And how was this moment any different!?
Rather than take my own death at its time, I sold my soul to the sea for a brief time with my family. Then rather than let my memory drift away from those who would suffer at my loss, I was deciding to torture them with the burden of living their lives in grief without me. I could taste my own self-disgust, like the bitter tang of the ocean water.
I screamed every inch of my frustration at the top of my lungs as the evening sky darkened. The sea ate my wails in its infinite greed. The sun became just a sliver along the horizon, yet the water looked like it was on fire.
With a final breath of determination I threw the trinkets out into the waves, and they dissolved into sea foam as they breached the surface, giving the best parts of myself to the sea.
The choice was not so difficult after all.
The last piece of light I had within me was my bravery, I clung to it in the sea of my own selfishness as I had clung to my surf board in my last moments I was in possession of my own soul. I did not need to gift pieces of myself to those I love, for they were beautiful and whole already.
I did not need a year with them to validate my love for them. I would not wager a day with them only to protect my own memory in their heart; a memory that would in turn poison them for the rest of their lives.
They were worth more than I will ever be.
My choice was made.
Watching the darkness of the night sky kiss the lurid surface of the sea, I begin to walk into its inky depths. As the cool water washed over me, my final thoughts were warm and full, with the memories of my life that are taken from my loved ones, and I am satisfied in my end.
[“Thalasnumine” A Short Story by Helena Von Schage]