Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Midwestern Girl and The Sea

This was supposed to be a post about blinding the beach-goers of Delaware with my lily white ass because the waves of the Atlantic pulled my bikini bottoms off a half dozen times.

But as we know, life changes quickly, and instead it's a post about how my lily white ass, and the rest of me, had to be dragged to shore by a lifeguard after I liked to drown this weekend.

My love of hyperbole is well documented.

It was the best/craziest/weirdest thing that happened to me EVER, and I'll be talking about extra fruit at Yagoot. But believe me when I say this is one of the best/scariest stories ever, and I have a few.

Friday afternoon Ray and I were splashing around in the surf at Reboboth Beach. Everything seemed cool, but before I knew it I couldn't touch anymore. One minute I'm bobbing up and down, splashing in the waves, the next minute I can't touch and I'm treading water.

And treading, and treading, and treading... and starting to get tired.

I attempted to work my way back to the shore.

Kick, kick, kick. Swim, swim, swim. Nothing.
Push, push, push. Kick, kick, kick. Swim some more.

I've been out much farther in the ocean before with no problem, but suddenly I was out there and for all my I kicking, swimming and struggling, I wasn't going anywhere. In fact, I seemed to be getting only further away and I couldn't stand up to rest and catch my breath. By then I was already extremely fatigued from fighting.

I didn't know then I was in a rip current.

I thought if I could get back to Ray and he could stand then I could rest for a little while. But when he told me he couldn't stand either, I knew I was in trouble. My distress and fatigue at that point was obvious though I was trying to mask it, and Ray came over to me. When he did I grabbed onto him in the hopes that I could lean on him and rest, but he couldn't stand either, and we both went under.

I had the distinct feeling when we came up that if grabbed onto him again we'd both drown. I remember that from swim lessons as a kid - a drowning person will drown you with them.

Ray wasn't panicking but he was fearful. What he didn't know was that I had been struggling to get myself back closer to the shore for some time and was already exhausted.

I continued to struggle to get back to where I could stand but I was getting exponentially more fatigued by the second. Even staying afloat was work, and every time I went under a wave it was a little harder to push myself back up.

At that point I knew I had to get to shore quickly and I didn't have the strength to do it on my own.

I knew I was going to drown unless someone came for me.
I looked Ray in the eye and said, "I'm not going to make it."

His face went slack with distress and he grabbed my arm to try and pull me, but when he did I went under again. I could barely keep my head above water on my own, and it was impossible to keep my head above water while struggling with him. I actually thought we were both going to drown by him trying to save me.

"Stay away from me," I told him. "Don't come near me."

It probably sounded harsh, but I was attempting to save us both. I had enough energy left to tread water for a little while if nothing was impeding me, and I figured if I went under again I at least had enough energy left to push myself back up to the surface a few more times.

And then, without saying a word to Ray, and it must have been somewhat startling, I yelled to the shore for help. Screaming, as loud as I could, HELP! 

Even though I fleetingly thought 'This is going to make quite a scene at this very crowded beach,' I was acutely aware my time and energy was quickly fading.

When I started yelling for help, so did Ray. I could see the lifeguard stand but I wasn't sure if they could hear us. But I figured someone on the shore would be able to hear us and would pass it along to the lifeguards.

Within seconds I saw the fuzzy outline of a lifeguard leave the stand and told myself, "Just relax, keeping treading, they're coming..." I knew I could tread water at least until he got there.

I don't know what happened in the interim, it seemed like mere seconds passed, but suddenly the lifeguard was there, right in front of me, like he just appeared out of the ocean.

He pushed his orange flotation thing to me and grabbed me from behind. I heard him tell Ray to grab on too. We were both exhausted and scared. Then another lifeguard appeared and gave Ray his own floaty, and Ray told him that he was sorry, that he just couldn't figure out a way to get me to shore and he said, "I thought, 'I'm going to watch my girlfriend drown, or drown myself trying to help her.'"

I felt secure at that point, like everything was scary but ok, and scoffed and told Ray, 'This is their job. They are probably having fun right now.'

Behind me I heard my lifeguard say, 'Beats sitting in a chair.'

While I was more secure and somewhat joking, I also think I was trying to pretend that this was no big deal - 'This is their job' - because that is my MO. But meanwhile, Ray was well-aware this was a big freakin' deal, and he was sorry we were all in this situation.

When we got closer to the shore the lifeguards told us a big wave was coming and then suddenly, I felt the concussion of my lifeguard's forehead against the back of my head. The force knocked me face first into the water, and the wave overtook us. The blow to my head hurt so badly I wondered briefly if I would come back up or if I had a concussion and would drown that way.

About then the guard pulled me up out of the water and basically dragged my ass the rest of the way to shore, standing behind me. When we got there he asked if I could stand and walk, and I did, but my legs were like Jell-O and I was super unstable. What I wanted to do was fall into the sand. But the beach was shoulder-to-shoulder when we got there, and now everyone was shoulder-to-shoulder on the shoreline watching me be dragged in.

I waved to everyone standing and staring and said something like, 'Hey everyone, very exciting, I nearly drowned.'

I was trying to make light of it but internally I was just about to freak the hell out.

A little girl who was holding her dad's hand said to me, 'The waves are really big. Was it rough? It was rough wasn't it?' She was so cute and sweet and I was afraid she'd be scared, so I told her it was really rough but that I was ok and she had to be very careful.

Suddenly Ray was there again. It was like I didn't see him for a long time once the lifeguards got there, even though it was probably less than a minute. He stood there holding me up on the beach and was talking to me, but I couldn't really hear him. All I kept saying was, "I'm ok. I'm ok."

I don't know if I was trying to convince him, or me.

We went back to our chairs and spent the next hour alternately feeling traumatized and making jokes.

The lifeguards at Rehoboth are not like the Midwestern, pool-grade lifeguards we see, they're super buff hotties who are trained and skilled at saving people from the ocean (check out their required skills test, and then their photos - hotties galore), so if you're going to nearly drown I'd highly recommend doing so at Rehoboth Beach.

I joked to Ray from the safety of my beach chair that, 'Hey, wait, didn't I need mouth-to-mouth from the really hot one?!' To which Ray replied, 'I'm glad you didn't, I'd have never seen you again.'

One minute I'd be demanding that the lifeguards come back so I could get their phone numbers, you know, to call and make out with them and thank them, the next my eyes would well with tears at how terrifying it all was.

I mean, I've been through a lot, I had cancer, but never have I felt so singularly aware that my life was in immediate peril... that's because I've never felt like I was going to drown before.

I kept apologizing to Ray for how scary it was and for putting us at risk, and Ray kept saying, 'I'm just glad you're ok. Jesus, Gina. Damn it. Never a dull moment with you.' Then he'd shake his head. And then again, 'Jesus, Gina... Damn it, I'd like to marry you... before you drown.'

While I repeated over and over, 'Holy shit. I'm glad I didn't drown. But what a great story!'

There was a lot of swearing afterwards.

After about an hour we went to thank the lifeguards and that's when they said we got caught in a rip current, which I didn't really know what that was. But after looking it up it made me feel better. Before that I thought I'd inadvertently caused it myself by going out too far, even though I've certainly been out further in the ocean before without problems, so I couldn't understand what happened or how I'd failed so spectacularly.

The guard said they have to pull people out all the time because they fight and get exhausted and panic, adding, 'You probably won't be the last one today.'

Before Friday I thought of rip currents as being these violent washes of water that pull you out suddenly. It wasn't like that. Instead it just steadily carried me away from Ray and further from the shore without me even realizing it. By the time I needed to fight to get back, I was ill-informed to help myself.

Getting out of a rip current is counter-intuitive - you have to first go parallel to the shore before you can get back in. It doesn't matter how good of a swimmer you are if you don't know this. And in my case, even knowing this would have been unhelpful because I couldn't identify that I was even in a rip current. My Hollywood idea of them was that they are these fast moving tides of water. Not the case. 

Every once in a while I have that, 'Oh my god, I am so glad I didn't drown' moment, but mostly I recount the story all Baywatch-esque, with the lifeguards running through the surf all tan and buff in slow motion while Chariots of Fire plays.

And I figure I got maybe another week of milking parlaying this trauma into iced lattés and flowers from Ray.

'It was so scary when I nearly drowned, woooo... I sure could go for a little treat, like an iced-vanilla soy latté.' *blink, blink, blink

And every time Ray says anything nice I ascribe it to my near-drowning, so he remembers how scary it was an is even nicer. 'Aww, I love you too. I'm so glad we didn't drown. Oh, are these flowers for me, because I almost died?'

I joke, but truly, it was scary stuff. I shudder when I think about it too much.

Hours after this happened I saw the "Danger, Rip Currents" sign and also the "Welcome to Rehoboth Beach" sign that included another rip current warning and took some photos beside it. (Too soon?)

But because you're now better informed, you should absolutely watch this video about rip currents from the University of New South Wales in Australia. It's informative and shows several kinds of rip currents, which basically look like nothing if you don't know about them, and also looks like the safest, calmest place in the water. But as this guy says, it takes only a minute to drown, and they can come in and out quickly.

"That's a common thing about these flash rips, is that they can suddenly occur where a large number of waves are breaking, and it pushes the rip out, and then it disappears."

And also read up and see pictures from the University of Delaware Sea Grant College Program. "...The inherent variability of rip currents makes them especially dangerous to unwary or uninformed beachgoers."

That'd be me, folks, unwary and uninformed.

So anyway, you're welcome, you guys, I didn't drown. Send your checks/deep gratitude/anger to Rehoboth Beach Patrol.


Susan Loving said...

Good god, Gina. How did you avoid getting mauled by a bear when you lived in Virginia? (Or at least chased by a bear and narrowly avoiding a mauling.) Glad you're OK. Where else would I get my vicarious death-defying thrills? (Andy's smoking doesn't count.)--S.

Kelly said...

I had heard the term before, but I didn't know much about rip currents until just a couple months ago, when Edmund's sister-in-law told me about being caught in a rip current at the Outer Banks. She's lived on the coast nearly all her life, so she knew exactly what to do, but she also had her 8-year-old son with her, so she was doing this combo of quietly panicking on his behalf and saying, "Keep kicking to your left, sweetie!" as cheerfully as possible.

Thank you for your post. The ocean is big and scary to this born-in-Illinois-bred-in-Ohio girl, and it's good to know that buff lifeguards are there to save our lily-white asses.