Sherry and Karen perched on the bed with mirrors and cosmetics bags, prepared for another big day of soap operas and beauty treatments. Rhonda angled the television screen toward the table by the door, where she had lined up a lifetime supply of manicure products. I shoved the last wedge of leftover pita bread in my mouth and limped to the bathroom with my bathing suit, ignoring Rhonda’s that will never make the list of recommended breakfast foods.
Maybe the marathon drive to get there had provided all the thrills they needed. Or, this unsupervised slumber party returned them to happier times and that was enough. Something I did not understand justified their willingness to pay hotel rates to do what they could have done at home without spending a cent.
I came out--dressed for the beach--issued another invitation to join me, accepted rejection, and left alone. Humoring my improved but still tender arches, I walked the street-side of the hotel chain, smiling at other vacationers, none of whom appeared to be alone. With the taste of their bread still on my tongue and the hardness of their chair forever branded in my calf, I dropped my head and passed the Greek restaurant, hoping they wanted to forget me as much as I did them.
The absence of bikers in the parking lot at my vicarious hotel disappointed me again, but not enough to curb my determination. I would enjoy the final days in the sun, alone if necessary. To jumpstart the excitement, I walked through instead of around the hotel, stopping at the machine by the back door to borrow a thermos of ice.
A second flash of disappointment hit when I stepped back outdoors. Overnight, someone had built a hut on the space I had claimed the day before. From it, a bored looking couple rented army green, thick rubber rafts that interested me about as much as the endless slumber party at the Bates. I resisted the temptation to pad my towels with eight-dollars worth of rubber enclosed bicycle pump air and spread my things on the sand, beyond the shade of the hut and its line of customers.
Toddler-through-grandparent aged rafters filled the water. Infectious squeals and laughter made concentrating on my drug store mystery novel impossible. I put it aside and watched. They piled on the floats, in singles, doubles, and groups, some sitting and others lying, to ride the waves. I silently cheered those who managed to stay on, content in my spectator position, until a beer-bellied man tried, unsuccessfully, to stand on his raft. The emergency money tucked between the back pages of my book called out to me when I realized those rafts might present the closest opportunity I would ever have to surf.
My confidence waned as I stood at the edge of the water with an ugly raft under my arm. My swimming experience included pools, lakes, and rivers, where I could see the other side and imagine myself able to reach it if necessary. There was no other side of this ocean.
A girl half my age and size ran past and plunged into the water, belly down on her raft. She laughed as a wave lapped her up, and motioned me in. I followed, wishing one of my friends had come along to share the ride. After a few spills in water so shallow that I skinned my knees on the sand, I conceded my will to the raft and learned it did much better without my influence. Eyes closed and ugly float finally balanced, I stayed in the water between waves, and tanned.
Being the girl whose daydreams had delivered her to wonderlands during heads-down quiet times in elementary school, and whose ability to escape reality had seen her through drugless surgical procedures and childbirth, my withdrawal from time and surroundings was inevitable. I returned later, to the sound of a near-hysterical megaphoned return to the beach area, and a quick look at the wrong, no other side of the ocean.
I lost my balance and took a spill while turning. Both sides had become endless. The voice repeated, come back in, giving me direction and motivation. Disregarding the inexperience of my will, I leaned forward and kicked, hoping to turn my raft into a speedboat that would tough the giant wave coming toward me.
The wave became a Ferris wheel and I the unfortunate passenger whose seat rode above her head. Breathing was the easy part; catch a big one at the top and hold it on the bottom. I tried, repeatedly, to climb back on the raft but it preferred slapping my face to offering relief. Blaring horns joined the megaphoned commands. Together, they broke through the roar in my head each time I crossed the top arc, reminding me there were other people out there.
Anger fueled the successful portion of my struggle. I refused to drown because someone had to smack the fool with the megaphone. Surely, he could see that I was in trouble.
One burning, strangling gulp of salt water convinced me to give up. Without rhythm, I had no chance. I released the raft; decided to die in comfort, not being whipped by ugly, green rubber or fighting an ocean. The roar, the megaphone, the blaring horns, and the fear left. I floated in peace, stretched out on my back, soaking in my last rays of sun.
I didn’t see or feel the man who wrestled me half way back. His voice, telling me he had exhausted his strength and would not go in without me, was the first I knew of him. I opened my eyes, looked past him and saw land, and we swam back together.
I lost the deposit on the raft, forgot about smacking the man with the megaphone, and made a new best friend, whose other friends waited on the beach to praise him and assist me. We declined offers from the first aid crew and hotel staff, but I allowed my new friends to drive me back to the Bates.
During the short ride from his hotel to mine, I learned three things. My rescuer and I lived less than five miles apart. I did not care about the things I had left on the beach. And, when adrenaline wears off, the body is completely worthless. He fell asleep before we got to the Bates and I wanted to. The driver helped me out of the car and walked me to my room. He also waited while my friends helped me change into dry clothes so he could take me back to their hotel and watch over me while they went to dinner.