Writing Honorable Mention: The Lady in the Water
Saved by a vision
by Cecilia Sweatman
When my foot first touched the sand, I felt a burn so hot under my toes, I cringed. I could not understand how anyone could frolic on the sand on such a hot day. My mother told me to put my bubble gum pink flip-flops back on my feet as we made our way across the sand.
She also reassured me that the sand was much cooler by the water and that my feet would become accustomed to its temperature over time. I immediately noted that my much older cousin Violet was an experienced beach goer and had kept her flip-flops on. With my sandals back on, I felt elated as I ran across the sand to touch the water.
I was five years old and it is my first memory of my hand touching cool ocean water. As my mother and Violet laid out their towels on the sand, I grabbed my Strawberry Shortcake towel (Strawberry Shortcake was all the rage in 1980) and tried to emulate their swift and smooth unfurling action. I was slightly disappointed by how crooked and bunched up my towel looked on the sand, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t smooth out with my hands.
My mother was setting up the beach umbrella. “You know that Redondo means round in Spanish,” she said. She then pointed to the rounding form of the beach as it comes to an end at Malaga Cove. I mouthed the word “Redondo” and then the word “round,”
“Redondo and round almost sound the same!” I replied. In my five-year-old mind, it was as if I had uncovered a brilliant connection no one had ever thought of. “I really want to go swimming,” Violet said with eagerness that only a boy crazy teenage girl could muster.
She had spotted a group of teenage boys about her age swimming in the water.The boys stopped swimming and made eye contact with her. They all had shaggy, dirty blonde hair and Violet noted that one of the boys was sporting Ocean Pacific swimming shorts.
Since Violet was wearing an Ocean Pacific bikini, she felt that she and this strange boy were a match made in heaven. I could tell that my mother wanted to cool off in the water and an immediate feeling of terror enveloped me. I had never once thought that we would actually “get in” the water. I gazed out at what seemed like monstrous waves and shrieked, “I don’t wanna get in the water!” My mother and Violet tried to reassure me that if I held on tightly to each of their hands, there is no way that I could drown. I wasn’t buying it.
I spent the next several minutes throwing a tantrum, to no avail. My mother refused to leave me alone on the sand unsupervised and Violet did not want to go out into the water alone.
I had no choice but to go with them. My mother was all about tough love and seemed determined to make this a teachable moment. She wanted me to overcome and face my irrational fear and my cousin was hell bent on getting out into the water so she could bat her eyelashes at those boys.
When you are five years old there aren’t many arguments you can win. The size of the waves seemed to grow to monstrous proportions as we got closer to the water. First the water touched my feet. Then it reached my knees. Sheer terror did not fully set in until the water was at chest level. Then the water level reached my mouth, which prompted Violet and my mother to suspend me above the surface. “See this isn’t so bad you scaredy cat!” Violet said as she waved to the group of boys. For a moment, I did start to believe that everything was going to be fine. I held their hands tightly, staring at the shoreline. The shore seemed a million miles away.
While staring at the other beach goers, safely frolicking on the sand, that familiar feeling of fear started to creep back into my body. I have found in my travels since then, that stressful situations can be compared to walking a tightrope. As long as you don’t look down while walking that tightrope, the fear won’t grip and paralyze you. Well, at five years old, I was still learning the ways of the world and made a critical mistake. In this case, looking back over my shoulder was the equivalent of looking down while walking a tightrope.
I wasn’t about to fall off a rope and crash to my death, but a wave large enough to swallow my body was heading my way. I started to squirm in terror and screamed, “Look at the big wave!” “Oh that’s nothing”, Violet said. We’ll lift you up when it hits.” I didn’t believe Violet. Not because she had ever given me a reason not to, but because in my irrational, panicked mind this wave was clearly going to kill all three of us. “Let’s run!” I shouted. They didn’t budge. I squirmed out of their grip and tried to run to shore. When I broke loose my mother shouted, “Don’t runaway! The wave will take you under!” I heard her, but I was not going to look back at that gigantic wave.
I waded through the water as fast as I could back to shore. The wave hit me and I became completely submerged. As the wave receded back into the ocean, the strength of the water felt powerful and unrelenting. No matter how hard I struggled, I couldn’t get to the surface. I held my breathe as long as I could, fighting my way to the surface. I felt I was being pulled under by a malicious force. I couldn’t see clearly.
The violent movements of the water were kicking up a sandstorm. I had reached my limit and I couldn’t hold my breath anymore. I had no choice but to take a deep breath. The saltwater burned like battery acid as it made its way into my lungs. Just when I didn’t think I could take the pain anymore and was about to take in another deep breath, the water became still and clear. I could see the sand at the bottom and a bed of kelp slowly swaying about five feet in front of me. That is when I first noticed her.
She just was there in front me, as if she had always been there. She had long, light brown hair, skin that glowed a pearl white and was wearing a blue, flowing gown. As her gown swayed and danced in unison with the kelp behind her, it reflected the light of the golden sun. An immediate feeling of peace came over me. She looked right at me and smiled ever so slightly. As we locked eyes, I took a deep breath. With that breathe, as she looked lovingly into my eyes, I felt a rush of oxygen into my lungs.
There was no burning pain this time. I could breathe…I could breathe under the water! I smiled at her and she remained as still as a marble statue. The feeling of peace that was emanating from her being took away all of my fear. All of the desperation and panic was gone. I took a few more deep breaths as I marveled at her beauty and marveled at what was happening. Was this actually happening? Then as quickly as the feeling of peace had come, I started to feel the power of the water take hold once again.
As the water began to move in a chaotic fashion, my view became obscured by whirling sand. As the peace and calm receded away, so did my view of the lady in the water. The next thing I remember was washing up on the shore. I tried to take a deep breath, but I couldn’t breathe in the air. Instead, I began coughing up large amounts of water. As I sat up coughing, I realized that my mother and Violet were standing over me.
When my mother realized that I was fine, she began scolding me for running away. “How long was I under the water?’ I asked. “Just a few seconds”, Violet said.
A few seconds? How could this be? I was with the lady in the water for what seemed like several minutes. I told my mother and Violet about the lady in the water as we made our way home. “You weren’t under the water long enough to see any lady, silly!” Violet responded sarcastically.
Then Violet, in typical teenage fashion, changed the subject back to the boys she met at the beach. I didn’t care about what they thought or if they believed me. Even at that age, I knew that I had experienced something inexplicable, something that completely defied logic.In my five-year-old mind, I believed that the lady in the water was indeed real and that she had saved me.
She had given me the ability to breathe underwater. Who or what was she?
I had so many questions as I gazed out the car window moving further away from Redondo Beach. I returned to Redondo Beach every summer after that for the rest of my childhood and never saw the lady in the water again. Perhaps, I just never needed to see her again. B