The water closed over my head so fast I never had time to inhale. I sank and sank and … You know, that life flashing before your eyes thing is real. It wasn’t like a movie; more like silent pictures played across the inside of my eyelids. Half the pictures were of stupid stuff that I hadn’t even realized had meant something to me but then a picture of Rand and Austin flashed on my personal slide show and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt I couldn’t give up.
I struggled to the surface but then had to accept that I wasn’t going to make it. And that’s when an arm brushed against me and then grabbed me, dragging me the rest of the way up.
A voice shouted in my ear, “We have to move away! She’s going down and she’ll take us with her in the vacuum effect!!”
The problem was that I didn’t know which direction “away” was. The rain was coming down so hard I had yet to see the face of my rescuer. I felt him drag something over my head and then realized it was a life vest. I could feel some vibration in the water and a deep groan issued off to my left. With that my rescuer started pulling me to the right trying to get back to the cutter but it was impossible.
I’m not sure how long we were in the water but it was long enough for me to realize that the water is only warm at the beach. The water out in the middle of the Gulf is cold enough to sap your strength away. We were swept this way and that with the debris that bobbed up from the sunk slave ship.
A particularly large wave suddenly picked us up and as we came down a piece of debris slammed into the side of my rescuer’s head. Now it was my turn to encourage him, to rouse him when he would fade. And then out of the blue a yellow inflatable rammed us. How my rescuer found the strength to grab it while still holding me will probably remain a mystery until Judgment Day. It was a struggle but I finally managed to climb into the life raft and hold on. But no matter how hard he tried my rescuer could never succeed in getting himself into the boat.
The waves were growing worse and his hands were bloody where the rope sawed into his skin. And he was weakening. He no longer had the strength to even pretend that he was trying to climb in the raft.
Whenever the waves would permit I’d lean over the boat and try to help him but then he said, “It’s no use. I’m done.” I railed at him not to give up. He took something from around his neck and somehow tossed it over mine. “Tell her I’m sorry!” I looked down to see what it was and saw he’d given me his dog tags. I looked up and asked, “Tell who …” But he was gone.
I fell back into the raft emotionally hysterical but too physically spent to express it. The lightning crashed, the thunder rolled, and if the waves hadn’t been tossing the raft so much it would have filled with rain water and taken me down with it. I was left with nothing but to scream and cry out to God, asking … no demanding … to know why he was letting this happen. After all I had been through in my life I thought I deserved a little more consideration. Did God think it was funny that after losing my family, surviving the pandemic, and those first brutal months afterwards he offered me what appeared to be a shot at sublime happiness only to jerk the rug out from under me again? And what of my baby? Was it fair to let that little life come so far only to snuff the spark out before he’d even drawn his first breath?
And then I thought of Austin and of Rand and I stopped mattering. I begged and pleaded, “Just let me get home to them. Just let me get home. They need me. Austin can’t handle losing a mother again so soon and Rand needs to have someone to look after to make it through the day. We need time to fix the mess we left things in or he’ll let it eat at him the rest of his life; the guilt would kill him.”
Focusing on my prayers was the only way I didn’t slide into the madness of fear. And then, though it didn’t seem possible, the storm got even worse. I lay in the raft and I seemed to be rising and rising and rising and then I was in free fall and I hit the water so hard I was knocked unconscious.
I have absolutely no recollection of what happened in the hours after that. Had I been awake I probably would have died of fright. I was never a big fan of open water and storms to begin with and to have to deal with both of those things on top of what I had experienced during the preceding days would have just been too much. In hindsight it has given me a much greater appreciation for the story of Jonah.
How long I was unconscious is also a mystery. By rights I never should have lived to see the sun come up. The hurricane should have handed me over to the keepers of Davy Jones’ locker several times over. At the very least it should have left me adrift in the middle of nowhere to die of dehydration and exposure.
Instead I shuddered awake at the feel of something disgusting hitting me in the head; like a water gun filled with slime. I brushed my hand across my forehead only to have it come away with bird poop. A seagull was resting on the edge of the raft and soon opened its beak to laugh at me.
“Why you …!” I tried to sit up only to feel like something sharp and hot and alive had been stabbed into my abdomen. I shrieked even louder than the gull had.
“No. No, no, no, no! This can’t be happening!! God, did you save me for this?!” I cried.
I finally caught my breath and was able to sit up only I wish I hadn’t. The bottom of the raft had a couple of inches of water in it that was tinged pink. I started crying but stopped abruptly when what I saw in front of me finally penetrated.
The raft kept bumping against some barnacle encrusted wooden posts. I looked left and right but the water line kept me well below the wooden planks above my head. I could see that they were attached lengthwise to some kind of concrete wall but that was it. But this had to mean I’d washed ashore in a town of some kind.
I screamed myself horse trying to get someone’s attention. It was no use, no one was coming. I was going to have to rescue myself.
I pushed and pulled and finally maneuvered the raft to a rickety looking ladder that went from the water line up to the top of the boardwalk above my head. I had just grabbed the first rung when another pain ripped through me. I was getting slightly dopey by that point. “Hang on Junior, Momma just needs to get out of this raft, up this ladder, and find a nice soft place so that you can come into this world. Though why you are in such an all fired rush all of a sudden is beyond me. You aren’t due for a few more weeks.”
Huffing and puffing I finally managed to pull my salt sticky body onto the boardwalk and when I looked around I was nearly sick.
The little town on the water was nothing but a skeleton. I was pretty sure it wasn’t the hurricane that had done it given the fact that it actually looked like a fire had done most of the damage. I was on my hands and knees trying to convince myself that walking was better than crawling to find some shelter. Then I heard something. It was a rhythmic beat of some kind. It reminded me a little of the sound that was made when Rand was chopping wood.
From somewhere I got the energy to head towards that sound, like it was calling me onward, hoping against hope that I’d find people. But the closer I got the less it sounded like I thought it had and when I finally turned the corner I saw a storm shutter banging against the wall of its building in the tidal breeze.
I was fast approaching the point of giving up again but something continued to pull my feet forward one at a time. Just as I reached the door and pushed it open to step inside big, fat drops of rain began to fall as if cutting off any possibility of retreat.
I looked around and realized I was in a little summer cottage, the kind that had been popular in the 40s and 50s. There was hardly anything to it. I’d seen sheds that were bigger than this one room efficiency that measured barely ten by ten. There was a small three-legged table in the corner of a barely there kitchenette, a small brazier that was supposed to be a fireplace, a door, two tiny windows both missing their glass, and a bed … a blessed bed ... pused against the opposite wall from the eating area.
I wasn’t thinking very well, I admit it. I sat on that sheet-less mattress with no thoughts to mold, mildew, or bed bugs. And then lay back and drew my knees up and rocked myself as another pain stabbed me in the gut.
I didn’t pay much attention to how long I lay there I just remember it lasted through several pains. Then from outside I heard a growl that had me sitting bolt upright. I struggled off the bed, made my way over to the door and slammed it shut, threw the distinctly out of place modern bolt, and just managed to push that pathetic little table against it on the pretence that it somehow would keep me safer.
The scare had gotten my brain working again. I knew I didn’t have much more time to prepare. I looked frantically around to see what I had to work with and nearly laughed at the ludicrousness of my position. Nothing, certainly nothing that I could start a fire with, but at least I could get out of my clothes and try and save them against what was going to happen.
As I struggled to remove my one remaining shoe I saw pushed under the pedestal kitchen sink a speckleware dish pan. I finished getting out of all my clothes except my cotton muumuu like undershirt and then, after breathing through another pain, reached under the sink and pulled the pan out. It was a lot cleaner than I had any reason to expect.
Sticking the pan out of the frameless hole that had once held a window I used the rain to wash away what little dust there was and then I filled it and drew it in and sat it on the miniscule night stand next to the bed. That’s it, that’s all the time I had. From that point forward all I remember was feeling like one giant corkscrew of pain was ripping me apart.
After another time warp I lost control of my body and just let nature run its course. I pushed and pushed whenever the urge struck and eventually this baby just sort of gooshed out of me. I had absolutely no real idea what to do after that but I was fascinated with the slime covered package I’d just delivered. I knew I had to disconnect the baby from the placenta that came shortly afterwards. I pulled a string from the hem of my dress and tied it off tightly and then rubbed the edge of one of the metal dog tags on the rough limestone wall above my head, rinsed it in the pan, and then used the newly sharpened “knife” to cut the umbilical cord awau.
It was only after I’d finished that and brought the yowling baby up to nurse like I had seen LauraBeth do that I finally realized I had a son. “Your Daddy will be so proud of us. And just wait until he get a load of you. You may be small but you sure are feisty.”
I was exhausted but strangely unable to settle. All the women that I had listened to had said as soon as they had given birth and made sure the baby had all its fingers and toes they were so exhausted they fell into a dreamless sleep. Not me.
I tried to put it down to the mess. I hate sleeping in a messy bed and a blood soaked mattress certainly qualified as messy but it was more than that. I didn’t know what was wrong but I was beginning to freak out … and beginning to hurt again. I couldn’t tell if my fear was causing the pain or if the pain was causing the fear.
I know I’ve written several times of being afraid since I had been kidnapped, even petrified and ready to die but this fear, there is no describing it. I didn’t know what was going on. My baby was here, I couldn’t get sick, I couldn’t die. There was no one to take care of … to take care of … and out of nowhere I knew exactly what my baby’s name was. There was no one around to take care of Beau. I had to be OK. I had to be the one to put Beau into Rand’s arms.
I felt like I was splitting wide open all over again and then I realized something in a very disconnected way. My stomach had never gotten flaccid, there was something still in there. I pushed and pushed and pushed to get it out thinking I'd somehow missed a descriptive step in one of the books or that there was more than placenta left in me. I even thought, "Tumor." Whatever it was it was so much harder get out than Beau who lay there crying pathetically while I was unable to comfort him. And then finally with one last herculean effort I finally succeeded in gettingit out of me … and it started crying too.
“Two of them?” I thought, thunderstruck at the very notion. “What the heck am I supposed to do with two of them?!”
But I repeated the process of detaching the baby from the umbilical cord and placenta and brought the two babies up to my bare chest trying to warm them since the night air had a weird chill to it despite it being the middle of summer.
A boy … and a girl. Beau … and Belle. As I juggled the tandem nursing the babies demanded I thought, “Rand is so going to freak out. Someone needs to have a movie camera going when I show up with not one but two babies in tow.”
But it wasn’t to be that easy. Sometime during the night I started feeling sick.