He had given up hope and wandered into the ocean. Then he heard somebody call his name.
- Posted on Apr 27, 2020
Nobody was on the beach before dawn in Brigantine, New Jersey. The shore was completely desolate. Maybe that’s what had drawn me. My life was just as desolate.
Six months earlier, in June, I’d been on my boat, the Furthermore, trying to make good time from Florida to New York when a sudden storm had blown up off the coast. Try as I might I couldn’t keep the boat away from the notorious shoals that jutted out from the Jersey Shore. I barely got myself to the life raft before everything else I owned—my clothes, my money, my livelihood as a sailor—was wrecked. All I had was a blanket some rescue workers gave me when I washed up shivering on the beach.
The Furthermore—or what was left of it—washed up a day or so later, but it was an empty shell. That shell was now sitting in a boatyard. The guys there had offered to rebuild it, but I had no idea how or when I could pay them for their trouble. The part-time jobs I’d found while crashing on a friend’s couch or at the boatyard were not enough to keep me from falling deeper and deeper into debt.
What’s the point of trying to start over anyway? I thought, gazing out at the ocean. I was in a hole far too deep to climb out of. Since the wreck the only thing that had brought me any relief was drinking. I’d done plenty of that earlier in the evening. Then I got the idea to come to the site of the wreck. I’d had this strange feeling I would find something here, something I’d lost that had somehow gone unnoticed all this time, but of course there was nothing left behind. Everything was gone.
Maybe that wasn’t the real reason I’d come out here in the dark.
The eastern horizon had lightened, but there was no sign of the sun. The sky was overcast, hazy and gray, and a light rain misted on the beach. I saw a splash in the water—a dolphin maybe, or even a whale. I got up from my place on the sand and walked toward it over the hard-packed mud. When I got to the water I didn’t stop. I waded in, water splashing over my feet, ankles, then my knees.
It must have been very cold, but I barely noticed. Whether it was the alcohol or just the numbness of having nothing to live for, all I felt was wet. The water reached my waist. I kept going, first walking and then half swimming into the ocean. This is my only option, I thought as I moved farther and farther away from the shore. I’d lost everything on the beach that night in June. Everything but myself, and what was that worth?
My toes just barely touched the bottom of the ocean. I stretched out my arms, teetering like a man on a tightrope. Just kick out, I told myself. It’ll all be over...
I blinked and turned back to the beach. Who had called me? There was no one here—certainly no one I knew.
Before me on the beach was what looked like a figure from the Bible. He was hooded and clutching a staff of some sort. I strained my neck trying to figure out who it might be.
I stumbled, lost my balance. Completely submerged, I was at the mercy of the dark ocean. Isn’t this what you wanted? Only a moment before I had wanted to sink. Then someone called your name. Twice. I struggled for the surface. I needed air. Something grabbed me and pulled me back to shore. I came up sputtering, my head above the waves.
The figure on the beach was still there, but now he came into focus. He wasn’t some Biblical patriarch, just a fisherman in a raincoat, his hood pulled over his head. His staff was a fishing pole. And he couldn’t have called my name. I’d never seen him before. “Hey, you!” he yelled again, coming toward me.
I must have moved toward him too, because a minute later I was sloshing out of the water toward his outstretched hand. My legs were so numb I could barely feel them.
“Let me help you,” the fisherman said, keeping his voice very calm. He must have realized what he’d just almost witnessed. “I can help you. Please. Let me help.”
Help, I thought, but I couldn’t say it. My teeth were chattering too badly to pronounce the words. There wasn’t enough help in the world for a loser like me. I extended a trembling hand and he led me to the beach and sat me down on a piece of driftwood. “You shouldn’t have pulled me out,” I said.
“I didn’t,” he said. I saw that the fisherman was right. He wasn’t even wet. “You walked out of that water of your own free will. Or with the help of a power greater than yourself.”
It was true: I’d felt it. I didn’t want to die. In that instant, I fully realized what I’d almost done. A wave of absolute terror washed over me. If I hadn’t thought I heard someone call my name...
“You’re safe now,” the fisherman said. “Whatever sent you into that water, you’re past it, aren’t you?”
He was right. The fisherman took me to his car and wrapped me in a blanket. Then we went to get a cup of coffee. The utter despair I’d felt on the beach lessened as I warmed up and started to talk. For the first time since the wreck, the hole I was in didn’t seem so deep. Maybe I could climb out and start again. A rescuing angel and a kind fisherman had given me an inkling of hope. It would take some time, of course, and a lot of hard work, but I knew I didn’t have to do everything completely on my own.
The following June I relaunched the Furthermore. She was better than new, and so was her captain. I was sober, going to AA and couldn’t wait to get back on the water. I had lost it all—and still had everything to live for.
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