The Raft. Devastation. Fear. Loss. Uncertainty. Abandonment. Grief. The inner turbulence of the author after experiencing a traumatic life event. Recovery. Perseverance. Survival. Hope.
Thunderheads rolled across the darkened sky. Gray clouds swelled and curled over themselves, spewing rain that fell in tight streaks, lacerating the surface of the ocean that lay beneath like needles puncturing skin. This storm had caught me completely by surprise. After the worst of it had passed, I was alone in the squally waters and fighting to stay alive, desperately clutching the only object that was keeping me afloat—a simple box crate. I didn’t know what had happened to the rest of my family—the storm had separated us. My husband, my children, my pets—the people I loved—where were they? They were in the black water like me--alone and holding onto something for dear life.
I had already been at the mercy of this tumultuous sea for what seemed like a time without end, and it was still raging and still powerful. A black wall of water rose in front of me, sucking me into it like a vacuum. I found myself at its highest peak, momentarily gazing at the bowling sky above until the wave dropped. The water fell so fast that bile came up from my stomach and burned the back of my throat. This was the roller coaster from hell—the dips plunged my heart into the pit of my gut until I thought the sick feeling alone would be enough to kill me. The violence of the sea was relentless. I curled my hand around the rope that was tied around the box crate, doubting that I could remain afloat much longer. My strength was all but gone. Hanging onto the winding rope, I ignored the frigid temperature of the water and endured the occasional slaps from the wild salty sea. I thought back to a time when I had navigated these depths with ease. It didn’t even seem like that long ago when…
The clear sky was above me and the calm sea was below me. My vessel was large, I remember it well. It was sturdy, beautiful, and it weathered the storms that came my way. I had spent a long time building it—constructing its base and overseeing the minutest of details until it was sail-worthy. I had placed everything that mattered to me on that craft; everything of substance that this particular storm brutally tore to pieces had been on that vessel—pieces I had tried to hold on to, but the tempest had swallowed them all.
The swell rose, heaving, and tossing me around. This night was especially dark, as black as coal. The occasional sparkle of light on the water, when the clouds decided to be kind and part, was somewhat reassuring. I wanted to think that even though I was alone—stranded—maybe someone was looking out for me—maybe I hadn’t been completely abandoned. I rested my cheek on the crate. My teeth were chattering and my body was shivering uncontrollably. I gripped the slippery rope tighter, twirling it around my hand several times. If the storm took this crate from me too I wouldn’t survive. I needed it. It hadn’t been a part of my original vessel—but it was a part of my experience now. It had found me and kept me afloat—it was all I had to hold onto. It would mean the end if I lost my grip—because the way I saw it, without this crate I would surely drown. It wasn’t just a simple box crate. It was my lifeline. Even in the dark I could make out its shape, square and imperfect, but in my eyes it was just right… because it had saved me.
Wrapping my arms around the crate, I desperately clung for dear life. But the shift of my weight submerged us, and we slipped under the surface. The water swallowed us both. There in the cold depth, we were rocked and tossed, rolled and churned—me and my crate—until the rope disentangled itself from my hand. We were disconnected from each other. I screamed underwater and bubbles rushed out of my mouth. Flailing and kicking, I reached for the rope but it wasn’t there anymore. Disoriented and confused, I struggled to find the surface—needing to get air into my burning lungs.
A ghostly white light shone down from a break in the cover of clouds overhead like a spotlight. Breaking the surface of the sea, I choked and struggled to tread water, coughing and spitting until something knocked me hard on the back of the head. It was my crate—and it was floating away from me. The sea was taking it. It’s leaving… I panicked and opened my mouth to call after it just as a succession of small waves battered me. I flailed at the surface of the choppy water, fighting for my next breath. I had very little strength left to go on. I thought of letting the storm take me... I had lost too much—more than most—and more than I could ever hope to recover.
I went under.
The water covered me like a cold, discomforting blanket. I expected death to claim me, as I knew it was waiting and longing to do. The tendrils of the deep reached for me, bucking and summersaulting me around and around. The rage and tenacity of the water spurred my own anger and I lashed out with furious fists and sharp kicks. I fought the bodiless monsoon until my lungs screamed for oxygen. Exhausted, I opened my mouth and released the last of my air supply. The bubbles quickly rose for the surface, showing me which way was up. I contemplated staying put. I need air! My lungs screamed again. But in this very moment the water was still; deceptively quiet and eerily tranquil. Just take me… I thought over and over again. Without so much as a thin thread to hold on to, I’m defeated anyhow.
Just then a raft appeared overhead, its shadow darkening the blue-black gloom. I looked up at the rectangular mass, temporarily mesmerized, until white hands broke the surface of the water and reached in. Those hands found me, curled around my upper arms, and pulled me out of the water. My lungs sucked in a desperate breath of air, all the while cursing me for allowing their extensive distress. My upper body landed on the hard planks. The soaked wood smelled of over-ripened apples and cheap cigars and my cheek was pressed firmly against it. My legs dangled off the side of the raft, tethered in place by the weight of my upper body. I couldn’t keep my eyes open because the water came up over the side of the raft and slapped my face over and over, developing a rhythm, like the beat of a drum. The slapping water gradually lessened in intensity until I realized that…
The storm was finally beginning to settle.
By morning, the sky was violet and blue. A stripe of orange peaked over the edge of the horizon where the ocean met the sky. The orange streak slowly spread across the dull sky, lightening and trying to overtake it. I took a deep breath, vaguely aware that I was not alone on the raft. My fingers found the edge of the plank above my head and I used the very little strength I had left to turn onto my other cheek. With my mouth gaping, I stared across at the familiar figure sitting just a few feet away. He had the appearance of a man, but I knew he was still a boy.
The salty water burned my eyes, but I could see his shoes—white sneakers with bright green laces. They were familiar. My head was swarming with thoughts and ideas. The boy was sitting crossed-legged, his gray plaid cotton shorts revealing his long pale legs. There was something about him that I recognized, yet I couldn’t quite identify it. The misshaped form of his knees struck me. The bones slightly protruded beneath his kneecaps… This boy… can it be that I know him? I wondered. The raft was drifting on the choppy sea, but in the moment that I was staring across at the boy, everything was calm. I opened my mouth, wanting to say something, but I was too exhausted to utter anything that made sense. “I… I can’t…” my voice broke. I hung my head.
“Don’t try,” he said, and I knew his voice. I had heard it before. “Just rest.”
I squeezed my eyes shut. Pain constricted my chest. My heart tightened around a small chest—a secret box that I kept hidden deep inside—a chest that now threatened to burst open. Pain mingled with my blood and pulsed through my veins like poison, becoming a hot and searing liquid. I bit down on my lip until the taste of blood filled my mouth. There was a boy on my raft—a boy. And suddenly I realized… this wasn’t just a raft--it was a piece of my broken vessel. This had once been mine… I swallowed hard, trying to push down the lump that had risen in my throat. I couldn’t look up at the boy now even if I wanted to… because I knew exactly what I would see if I did—hair as fine as strands of silk, dark espresso-coloured eyes that could see to the pit of someone’s soul, and a smile that could brighten even the deepest, darkest of days. On top of that though, Iwould see perfection. I would see the reflection of my joy, of my hope, and my endless love.
“Don’t try,” he repeated, and his voice took me back to a different time.
There had been a boy on my vessel—before this particular storm hit. He was a strong, handsome, caring boy. A boy that I loved unconditionally. He left handprints on my heart and placed a trail of footprints throughout my soul. A sob broke free of my chest. My eyes were stinging, not from the saltiness of the water, but from the saltiness of the tears that were now flowing freely from them.
My heart was broken… I lost this boy to the storm.
A strong gust of wind twirled our raft around on the blue-marbled water. My legs were still dangling over the side when the wild current caught them. The sea tried once again to suck me back into its perilous depths. My shoulders lost their perch and my body slid close to the edge. Not again, I thought, and contemplated the value of holding on this time, of staying this course. What did I have left? Do we ever actually beat the storm? No. We are all either heading into it, in the middle of it, or coming out of it—after it has taken something from us. My fingers were slipping. My hold was failing. The water was swallowing my lower body and I had to make a choice—keep going or let go. The storm was testing me again. Choose.
As if in answer, the boy reached over and placed his hand on my back.
“It’ll be ok,” he said, and I could almost see his face. “Don’t let go mama.”
And I broke. I wept.
Water entered my mouth and I choked. I wanted to hold him—to hold the boy, but he was beyond my reach. “Hold on,” he said. “Don’t let go,” he whispered, time and time again. I did—I held on until the storm receded and the waters were calm once again. The boy never moved from his place on the raft. I felt him sitting next to me, where he remained fixed and watchful.
The sky remained dull and gray for a long time, a long time. I held on, drifting half-on and half-off the raft, until the water became a rippleless sheet of glass under the pale blue sky. A new dawn finally broke. Finally, the storm had passed. In time I found the strength to pull myself completely up onto to the raft. All I could do was rest my forehead against the boards, and hug my knees to my chest. I was barely alive. The next stretch of time was going to be for recovering, restoring, and healing. For a long time, all I did was breathe. It was all I could do. Weak and fragile, the only arms of comfort were my own. Days turned to nights. Eventually, my ears began to work again and I heard sea birds singing and playing in the sky overhead. Their songs carried the tune of sweet innocence. The occasional gush of water spraying from a whale’s blowhole as it came in for a curious look startled me, and helped me find the strength to lift my head. I looked out on the blue world, and my perspective slowly changed. I noticed different things over time. Fins broke the surface of the water near my raft, drawing brilliant swirls that brought a smile to my lips. Life was all around me. The boy was gone. But he was with me. And life was within me. And life was all around me. The storm hadn’t taken it all…
Copyright 2015 by Ann Knight
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.