He had always been a risk taker. Always. The highest tree, the loudest noise, the murkiest water. His father had taught him how to climb when he was very young, and he would scale our house with a harness. In the back yard, he set up an impromptu laboratory where he made smoke bombs, one satisfying explosion after another. He surfed, he skateboarded, he rode horses. Faster and faster. Further and further.
And so it was that on that day that when I saw his head bobbing up and down in the water, I didn't panic. But my arm waved to him to come back. He said something but I couldn't hear him with the waves crashing. I waded in further, the water at my waist. My arm waved again. Come back, Tristan, come back, I shouted. And this time I heard him, his 11 year old voice so faint.
I heard him say, I can't.
I swam then, my years of camp behind me. Stroke after stroke after stroke. He was crying when I reached him, his tears slipping into the water. Mom, I'm so tired, he said simply. I can't swim anymore. My arm grasped for him and then caught him. But the undertow wrapped around us, gripping us in a choke hold. I struggled. My son looked at me and in a small sorrowful voice he said, We're going to die. Aren't we? No, I replied firmly. No, we are not. But my head went under and under again. And so did his.
But then I fought back. Angry, so angry. I kicked the current away, over and over. And I took my son with me. Finally, we broke free from its watery grip. And then the sand was under our feet. And then we were on the beach.
Hours later, I sobbed, inconsolable.
The ocean. So beautiful. I loved it. I had always loved it.
But now, sadly, I hated it, too.
Image by Delphine Warin.