01 Feb I’ve Been Drowning For Years
“Doc, I’m drowning. You don’t understand. I feel water inside my lungs, like I’m choking.”
I battled with the leather seat trying to get comfortable. The sweat soaking through my clothes made each movement squeal worse than nails on a chalkboard. I just couldn’t feel still. I couldn’t shake the swaying inside of me, as if I’d been out on the water for days.
“Jack, please, try to be still. You need to rest. I understand that traumatic experiences cause a type of pain that can never be forgotten, but you need your strength.”
Dr. Reem was so understanding. I had been seeing her for years now, and I could tell she knew what was best for me. She knew what I wanted, what I needed to heal. I felt like I had known her all my life, and I appreciate her so much for that.
“Why don’t you tell me again about your father. I know it may seem redundant but revisiting events and purging yourself of these memories can help to ease the shock and awe of it all.”
Her right leg was perfectly crossed over her left, but she switched them anyway, and readjusted her blouse in the process. She kept a small black notepad that she would occasionally write in, whenever I said something that I’m assuming was important, or integral to the process.
I did my best to find peace in the stickiness of my chair.
“My father was an ocean fisherman and brought me out to sea at an early age. Deep sea fishing could have been an exciting tradition, but my father was an abusive fucking drunk.”
“Yes, you had mentioned that your father wasn’t a great man, and I absolutely agree. I’m sorry that you had to endure all of that, Jack. But remember, you wouldn’t be the man you are today if it weren’t for those experiences.”
I heard her words loud and clear, but I was already back out on the ocean in my mind. I saw my dad sitting at the wheel on the boat, his thick black mustache of his goatee covering the entirety of his upper lip.
I didn’t need to see it to know it was up in a snarl.
I went on.
“I was excited the first time, despite the numerous beatings for things I didn’t even think were wrong, or how many times I had been told that he wished he’d never knocked up the old lady – referring to my mother.”
That’s what he called my mom. The word “mom” never came out of his own mouth. She was reduced to the old lady. It was cold. Insignificant.
I tried to steady my mind, to focus on my session. I felt myself slipping away, going back to when I was boy on the boat with my father:
“Nice day isn’t it, boy?” My father said, staring out into the horizon from behind the wheel.
I could already smell the alcohol on his breath. It was my first time on the boat with him. I honestly never thought I’d ever be invited out on it, but today he surprised me. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little scared; but I wanted so badly to take a ride on the boat, so I took my chances.
“Yeah! It’s so nice, and sunny too!” I said cheerfully.
Kids have a way of forgetting their pain, forgiving unconditionally. I was once that innocent.
“We’re gonna head through up that ways a bit.”
He cracked open a can of beer from the little red cooler at his side and pointed a little out and to the right, past the Robert Moses bridge. I wasn’t sure exactly where he was pointing, but I didn’t dare ask. I knew better than to question my father.
“That’ll take us out to the ocean. Once we head out, I got a surprise for you. This way ya can’t say I never did nothin’ for ya.”
He never looked over at me while he spoke. Instead, he kept his cold, dark eyes gazing out over the water as he drove the boat a bit too fast towards wherever it was that he pointed.
I must have been excited. I did like surprises, but not the surprise he had in store for me.
“You still with me, Jack?” Dr. Reem’s voice snapped me back to the present.
Her concerned eyes were slightly magnified behind her thick rimmed glasses, and they steadied me.
“Wow. I’m sorry,” I said, trying to laugh it off. “I guess it’s going to take some time before I can talk about this easily.”
The sweat pouring out of my skin was profuse. I couldn’t help but wonder how Dr. Reem didn’t judge me, didn’t ask if I needed to excuse myself. I was drenched beyond comprehension.
It was becoming harder and harder to breathe, but I pressed on. I trusted her.
“My father wasn’t a good man. He had evil inside of him.”
My lungs were being rung out like towels, and I had an overpowering urge to gag and cough. I tried holding my breath and let it pass, but it forced its way out. I was coughing up water, a lot of it. Salt burned my nose and stung my eyes as I was thrown headfirst back into my past:
“You’re gonna learn how to swim today, boy,” my father said, swatting my back so hard that I lost my balance.
I danced trying to regain my footing while the boat bobbed up and down over the rough ocean waves.
“Out here?” My eyes protruded with fear and regret.
“That’s right. Where is a better place to learn? You aren’t really a swimmer if you can only tread on flat water, are you boy? You aren’t a little bitch boy, are you?”
I could feel the tears welling up in the corners of my eyes, but I kept them there. I had to be strong in front of him. I had to wear my battered mask of courage, even though behind it was just a boy. Behind that mask was a terrified child who didn’t know the first thing about swimming.
“No, sir,” I said.
My father tipped his head back and finished another can of beer. He crumpled it in his fist before tossing it over into the water. I watched it wade in the waves, hoping I could float just the same.
White caps crashed hard against the side of the boat, but that didn’t stop my father from grabbing me by the shirt. He ripped it over my head and threw it to the floor. He took a knee and wrapped his arms around my waist, then tossed me up over his shoulder.
“Here’s your first lesson on how to be a man, boy.”
I hung over his shoulder, craning my neck, watching the ocean thrashing into itself upside down. I had a sinking feeling what was happening, but even that evil man wouldn’t do something so cruel.
At least that’s what I thought.
“Go fucking swim.”
Those were the last words I heard come out of his mouth, and they carried venom that burned within my veins until this day. All I heard from him after I was thrown overboard was a sloppy laughter, fueled by demons.
I don’t know if he was just drunk or if he just didn’t care. Maybe he meant what he said when he told me all those times about how he wished I wasn’t born. This could be his way out.
I was drowning right before my father’s eyes. Waves punched my head and face from all angles. I was seeing stars, flashing in and out of blackness and blurry hues of blues and gray. I kicked my arms and legs helplessly, but with all my might; praying to God that he would will me the ability to swim.
I struggled to keep my head above water, but I could only stay up for short moments at a time. It was becoming harder and harder to breathe as I searched frantically for the boat.
I couldn’t find it anywhere. I was alone. Did he leave me here to die?
“Jack!” A female voice was echoing in my brain. Was it? No, it couldn’t be – I hadn’t even met her yet. I was only a boy.
“Jack! Stay with me! Breathe. I’m here with you,” I felt a soft, nurturing hand cup the back of my head as I was turned over to my side. I was coughing relentlessly, hacking up what felt like gallons of sea water.
“You aren’t alone, Jack.”
Somehow, I smiled. She brought me back, yet again; saved me from myself.
Another wave of nausea sent water shooting up from my stomach and out on to the floor.
“Yes, hello? I need an ambulance to [address redacted]. My patient is having trouble breathing.”
She was on her cell phone.
“I’m okay, doc. As long as you’re here with me.”
Dr. Reem took my cheek off the floor with her other hand and turned my head to meet her gaze.
“I can’t be with you forever. You know that. You’re going to wake up one day and I won’t be here any longer. I’ll help you for as long as I can, but I can only help for as long as you stay. Neither of us can say for sure when that will be.”
The corners of her lips trembled. Her eyes glistened behind the thin film of tears that formed around her magnified eyes.
“I hope I can stay forever. I don’t think I’ll ever be ready, not without you.”
She shook her head and frowned, running the backside of her fingers along my face.
“Oh, sweetheart. I’m so sorry. I wish things could have been different for you. I wish I could have saved you from him, from all the pain that he inflicted on you. Please wake up, sweetheart, please.”
Dr. Reem’s voice was fading into another. It was a voice that sounded so familiar, even more comforting than before.
“I tried for years to get away from him, to take us somewhere far, far away where we could live a new life. Jack, I’m so fucking sorry,” her voice trembled with sadness as she whispered into my ear.
“Mom?” I asked. I was confused. My vision was blurry, and I tried to rub my eyes, but my arms felt so weak. I couldn’t move. I was so tired.
Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.
I heard beeping and humming all around me. As my vision improved, I was blinded by the brightness of the room. There were machines everywhere. I was hooked up to so many wires and tubes.
“My baby boy!” She yelled and wrapped her arms tight around me. Her tears wet my gown, but I didn’t mind.
Not this time.
“Where am I?”
“You’re in the hospital, baby. You’ve been asleep for a long, long time. I wasn’t sure you’d ever come back.”
Mom tried to hold back the cries, but they were too much to contain.
“How much do you remember?”
“I don’t know. I’m not sure what’s even real to be honest.”
“You went out on the boat with Dad. Do you remember that?”
Mom took my hand with both of hers and held it tight.
“I think so, yeah. But what about my sessions with the therapist?”
“What?” she gave a puzzled look, but only for a moment as it quickly faded back into an expression of sadness.
“Honey, you don’t have a therapist. You went on the boat with Dad, and you went overboard.”
“I went… overboard?”
I felt a seething rage building deep inside.
“You fell off the side when a wave crashed and tipped the boat. Dad tried to get you back in as quick as he could, but by the time he got to you, you hadn’t been breathing. He called the Coast Guard and the flew you to the hospital.”
She was squeezing my hand so tight. Did she really believe that?
I was still that young boy in my mind, so I didn’t think to tell her what really happened. The fear was still so strong, even when he wasn’t there to instill it in me.
“I love you, Mom.”
It was all I could muster.
Even now, as a grown man, I find myself drowning in my dreams. I hear my father laughing, while the water plunges into my ears and his laughs become muffled but still loud enough to rattle my brain.
I wake up in pools of salty sweat reminiscent of the ocean and cough up sea water over the side of my bed, and I still hear his twisted laughter.
I haven’t seen him since that day out on the water, and I’m afraid that he may be dead.
I’m afraid that there is so much evil in him that even in death, he finds too much pleasure in ruining my life to rest in peace.