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March 12th 2010, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
The violent thrashing of waves jolted me out of my tangled sheets, marked with another franticly restless slumber. My feet glided across the cool floor sending a flurry of goose bumps up my shivering legs, spreading like wild fire. I went to my window, already knowing what I would lay my weary eyes upon, another fierce storm engulfing the shore making my distress as powerful as the foreboding waves. I hadn’t felt that water for a year now. Morning swims and late night dives into the unknown were no more. I hadn’t inhaled the salty surf, letting its aroma overtake my senses, I hadn’t felt the cool foam of the waves swarm my drenched hair, I hadn’t ventured past the sand bars to frolic with the fish. These things were but memories, clouded by the core of my nightmares.
March 12th 2009, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
“Lucinda, come down here, I need you to take these guests to 376!” my mother hollered impatiently.
I descended down the stairs to find an elderly couple waiting anxiously for me to haul their bulging suitcases up another two floors. Their crinkled foreheads smiled with fond memories. The majority of our guests were over seventy, our nostalgic inn attracted flocks of them. My mother inherited it from her grandfather when I was six. He had very eccentric taste, so our humble inn was flooded with obscure knick-knacks and antiques. It had been a wonderful place to grow up; it was on the beach after all.
Normally, I would have no problem-playing bellboy, but today was not a day I wanted to part from my phone. I greeted the two guests cordially, while trying to hurry them up the stairs. After leaving them with a map of Rehoboth and some pillow mints I went to my room eager to hear news. I hopped onto my bed pulling up the live video feed streaming the race across the screen. I looked for my best friend in the thrashing waves; Seth was nowhere to be seen. I hadn’t expected to spot him out of the seventy swimmers fighting for their own wake. I guess I just missed him that much.
I met Seth when I was ten years old, he had moved from Wilmington to be closer to the ocean. He already knew he had wanted to be an open water swimmer, apparent from his dragging me into the water every chance he could. I had always loved the water, but he had made my obsession even more fervent. I never found anyone who I really clicked with in our small vacation town, my obsessive personality and unwavering energy had thrown off most of the kids at school, and just when I had about decided my only friends were the old vacationers who I played bridge with at the inn, he showed up. He became my comrade, my partner in crime, and my best friend.
At ten he was the one who stayed inside with me after getting a scalding sunburn, at thirteen he would be the one to tell me when I had food stuck in my embarrassing braces, and at sixteen he was the one to egg my ex-boyfriend’s house promptly after I caught him cheating. He had long, dark, matted hair from swimming and an often-dark personality; he was a self-deprecating individual, never excepting anything less than perfection.
He constantly shrouded himself in a cloud of self-doubt that often hindered his full potential. I would find him lying on the beach at least once a week, heaving salt water from pushing himself too far. I tried to go in with him everyday when he trained, I worried about him constantly, he didn’t ever think that there was such thing as working too hard. He had wanted to be the best, and would stop at nothing to reach perfection. I often had to bring him down to earth telling him that he was good enough. Of course, he never failed to set a new standard for himself. His latest benchmark was braving the English Channel. At seventeen he was the youngest competitor in the Great Channel Swim. My eyes scanned the screen once more, he was nowhere in sight. The water looked choppy, threatening almost. My hands began to shake with nerves for him. I gazed out my window at the placid sea, wondering why he couldn’t be experiencing the same serenity.
An hour had past, and I had lost my connection, and my patience. I desperately needed a distraction. I flew down the stairs, wishing time would pass more quickly. Seth would be reaching Calais by tomorrow around noon east coast time, I couldn’t wait that long to hear from him.
The sun was setting on the horizon, casting the sky ablaze a fiery pink, fading into the deep blue of the sea. I reached the boardwalk and came upon my favorite snack stand. Seth and I would come here after his training to indulge in funnel cakes and roasted nuts. I slipped the sinful food to my lips, letting the aroma overwhelm my senses. After reaching an almost paralyzing food coma, I strolled back to the inn to climb into bed, hoping noon tomorrow would arrive quickly.
The sky was cast a somber gray hue, letting no streak of light penetrate the bleak clouds. I realized I was looking down at the vast ocean, its indigo waves thrashing about engulfing the swimmers I saw struggling below. It was a fierce storm, one no human should be in. I gazed down once more to see a band of swimmers spread apart being swept back by the forceful current. Only one remained in the center of the storm’s wake. He was a young man, with long limbs and a determined air about him. He fought against the current, desperate to continue. The group of people surrounding him had now vanished; only he remained pursuing his swim. Another wave soared above him crashing upon his back. The corners of the water surrounding him began to curl, spinning inward until it had reached him, he struggled fighting for air, bulging his head above the roaring waves. He breached the surface once more, twice, three times. Another wave crashed upon him. He breached the surface no more.
My heart exploded against my chest. A dizzy rush flew to my head and I stumbled out of my bed. My nightmare had reached my conscious memories. I immediately thought of Seth staring at my alarm clock, 12:17 p.m. He should have reached Calais by now. Regaining my composure, I scrambled out of my room almost knocking over the kind elderly couple I checked in yesterday. Reaching the kitchen I found my mother sitting at her disheveled desk holding her head. My anxious movements stopped. I froze in the middle of the room, pleading that it was another negligible guest complaint. She gazed into my eyes, her own glassy with tears,
“Lucinda, you need to sit down.” My mother pleaded.
I took a step forward towards my favorite chair, my legs felt like weights, dragging me down with every shaking step I took.
“Luce, Seth died last night, it was hypothermia, in the middle of the race the British coast guard came out warning the swimmers that the water temperature was not suitable for the remainder of the race, about a third of the participants didn’t heed their advice. Seth was one of them.” She murmured softly.
My mother’s logical words hit me like a deafening blow. My mind ceased to think. My breathing had slowed. My heart was the only part of me functioning, slamming against my chest, making my body tremble with fear. He was gone. His passion had taken him. His determination had taken him. The ocean had taken him. Our sanctuary had taken him.
The air around me began to suffocate my senses. Hot tears spilled across my cheeks, blurring my vision. I tore out of that inn as if my life depended on it. I shot across the sand, not letting my vision guide me, but my intuition. I felt the damp powder slip through my toes not caring about the sharp seashells that lay beneath the sand. I wouldn’t have felt that pain. I had reached the water, my eyes cleared enough for me to spot its threatening waves crashing against the sand. I dared to take a step forward, another, one more. The cool foam had reached my toes sending a fire of terror up my legs. My entire body trembled, this is what took him. Tears returned to my eyes, flooding my vision once again. I raced off the beach, running from what had stolen my best friend from me.
March 12th 2010, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
A year had came and went, much like the tides that flooded our shores daily. The sun continued to rise, the rain still poured, the moon still shone. I stood up from my bed, the place that trapped me while I continued to have my same nightmare over and over again. Seth hadn’t been out of my life, but it was his death that continued to haunt my dreams. I stumbled over to my bathroom mirror examining my face, my puffy eyes were bright against the dark shadows cast under my eyelids. My skin was soft; the salty sea hadn’t purged it of its moisture for over a year now. I finally went down our rickety stairs to face another day without him. My mother stood beside her desk with the phone pressed tightly to her ear. She glanced at me and handed me it.
“Its Seth’s mother.” My mom whispered.
I inhaled a calming breath and pressed my ear against the phone.
“Hello Mrs. Nats.” I said quietly.
“Hi Lucinda, I just wanted to let you know that I’m finally cleaning out Seth’s room today, I know he would want you to have some of his things.” She responded slowly.
“I’ll be over in ten minutes.”
I tried to remain emotionless, knowing I would have to hold my composure for Mrs. Nats’s sake. I walked slowly over to my neighbor’s home. Mrs. Nats looked better than she had for some time now, color was again in her cheeks, and her eyes were clear as the day. She told me to go through the boxes she had marked with my name. She didn’t need to tell me where his room was. I paused at the doorway for a second, inhaling his room, it still reeked of protein bars and the ocean. Seeing all his things spread out randomly unnerved me for a second, but I kept my feigning calm and began to go through the boxes. After ten minutes of searching through old caps and goggles, I came across an old leather bound book covered with dust. I tugged at its cover fondly, this was his journal, the only thing he would do besides swim. I began to flip through its musty pages gingerly, smiling at his chicken-scratch handwriting. I came across a page I was able to decipher.
June 4th 2008
Luce is being neurotic again. I’ve amped up my training again and she still worries that I am pushing myself too far. Doesn’t she understand that its what I love? Doesn’t she know its who I am? Well she does know, I’ve never seen a person more one with the water than she is. She is like me, and I’m like her. We are meant to be out there. Out there, there’s no judgment, no rules, just you and the current, floating freely with your body. I would spend the rest of eternity out there if I could, but only if she could come with me. The ocean is our place, our sanctuary.
Tears sprung to my eyes once more. His words spun through my mind, “eternity, place, sanctuary.” It was our home, and I had abandoned it out of pure hate and fear. It was where he was, and I needed to be with him again. I let his journal slip from my hands and I left his room filled with memories, it was time.
I reached the beach, and my body shuddered with anticipation. I felt the sand squish beneath my feet. I had missed that feeling. I came to the shoreline, waiting for the cool water to sweep past my dry skin. I spotted a soft ripple coming, it collapsed over my feet, as if giving up in avoiding me. The smell of salt overtook my senses. I took a few steps into the water. The ocean swarmed around my legs, greeting me once more. The water sloshed around my neck. I buoyed myself up, floating with the current. I felt the sun beat down against my face. The water supported me, allowing me to float with ease. I could feel his presence, he was there with me. I was at peace, this was our sanctuary.