Swept Out to Sea

The waves, winds, and tides conspired to send the canoe miles into the Gulf of Mexico. A writer deals with his own mortality during a life-and-death struggle.

Mitch was friendly but quiet, and Kelly was jovial, cynical, and witty. It turned out that they'd come out special that day to drop traps because rocky seas roust the crabs. They were out 12 miles, and they said the seas were so high out there that they started thinking their boat, the Aftershock, might swamp, too. Kelly and I talked while Mitch steered the boat and Brittany, still sick, lay facedown in the center of the boat. Several crates of 9-Lives cat food were in the back. Mere crab bait, but I thought they seemed cosmically appropriate. I told Kelly about my plan to try and stay close and make a run at nightfall. He had to stop to keep himself from laughing in my face. He didn't think we had a chance. Kelly said we weren't far from getting out into higher seas that would have sunk us quick.

"It might not have been so bad," he said. "Look at it this way: You wouldn't have had to mess with that Y2K shit."

And there was the belly laugh. Then I told him how all kinds of factors seemed to line up against us, from the late start, to the seasickness, to the motor debacle, to the outrageous seas.

"I know that feeling," Kelly said. "I get it every morning when I wake up."

Belly laugh.

When we got on land, Kelly put the canoe on the back of his truck and drove us back to our car in Chokoloskee. Before he left for home, Kelly patted my back and said, "You're the luckiest guy in the world."

One of the lucky fools.

That night, when my dad put my son on the phone, I couldn't talk to him. I got choked up with emotion when I heard his elfin voice. "Daddy! I went to the zoo today," he said. Haltingly, trying to mask my emotion, I said, "We're gonna be home tomorrow." Tears burned my eyes, and I waited until I could get out, "I love you, buddy. Bye-bye."

I didn't feel too lucky for weeks after that. The pall of defeat and the residue of trauma shadowed me. At night when I should have been sleeping, I rued the mistake I had made with the motor.

I said to Brittany, "We've got to go back to Rabbit Key." She agreed, and we're planning our return in March. The motor will be fine at the bottom of the sea.

I won't make the same mistakes. There'll be plenty of new ones.

Contact Bob Norman at his e-mail address: Bob_Norman@newtimesbpb.com

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