Sunday, January 21st, 2018

Against the Tide

Posted on March 07, 2016 in Perspectives
By USM Free Press

Have you ever felt as if you were in a remorseless sea, fighting against a current that seems to be pulling you out faster than you can swim back in?

No, this isn’t an article on being depressed- though that one could be written too. It isn’t either a poor sampling of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz age classic, or maybe it is. Either way, my experience against this malevolent ocean is far more literal.

Let me take you back to the spring of 2009, when I was really starting to hit my stride in terms of individual irresponsibility. Myself and three of my best friends decided to spend a sizeable chunk of time and cash, neither of which any  of us really had at the time, to fly out to San Diego and visit three of our high school friends that had moved out their the year previous. What this week lacked in practicality and feasibility, it more than made up for in terms of memories made and money mismanaged.

This trip almost ended before we ever reached the west coast. The journey to San Diego started for us on board a plane that, in my opinion, should never have been allowed to leave the ground in the first place. We took a quaint little 24 passenger plane from Portland to La Guardia, and the entire ride felt like it was going to be our last.

The initial ascent of this flying piece of trash, from zero to around 10,000 feet, was an endless series of dips and jolts. I had never experienced a flight so terrifying and had serious doubts regarding getting back up in the air after the plane touched down in New York.

We did get back in the air though, all of us. The flight from New York to San Diego wasn’t much fun either, but I do not recall thinking that we would be plummeting to our deaths during the trip across the country.

The legend of the San Diego trip, as it has uncreatively come to be called the annals of our exploits, centers around a beautiful morning spent on Imperial Beach- home to the longest pier on the Pacific coast of the United States, as well as the sneakiest undertow I have ever had the displeasure of immersing myself in.

The warnings of our west coast friends about the tug of the tide did little to disuade our desire to test the waters. We went out, football in hand, playing pass in waste high haves as if we were out on Old Orchard Beach.

Imperial Beach, as we quickly learned, is no OOB. Waves crashed around our waists, much higher than they seemed from the safety of the shore. As powerful as these waves were though, they were no more than the precursor to the force of the tide pulling us out seemingly simultaneously with the crashing of the surf.

After a couple of these waves, it became terrifyingly clear that the ocean was not just going to let us skip back to shore. On the contrary, each of us began losing ground. By the time the next wave crashed, the undertow had brought us out from upper thigh to belly button, from belly button to chest, from chest to shoulder.

There was a moment in all this when I seriously worried that I would not make it back to shore. Looking at the fear reflecting in the eyes of Corey, Brian and Pat as they struggled in the ocean with me, I knew I was not alone in this concern.

It was only when the survival instincts, combined with the echoes of some distant relative saying “Nick, you dummy! Swim diagonal against the current,” that I was able to to start working my way back to the beach. Corey, Pat and Brian went through similar moments of clarity and eventually got themselves onto dry land as well.

I remember vividly laying on my towel, exhausted, looking up to the sky. A plane streaked across the vast blue skyscape, reminding me of an earlier traumatic experience of the trip- turbulence over the Rockies that made me question whether we were going to make it to San Diego at all.

I said aloud that I never wanted to leave solid ground again. The ocean, the sky, these were no places for me. We all laughed, and the next morning flew back home in a plane that was no more enjoyable than the one that got us there.

Eight years later, I remember the day on the beach in San Diego like it was last week. as afraid as I was on that trip, I look back on it as one of the most memorable times of my life. Brian, Pat, Corey and I don’t see each other much anymore, but we all share that moment in time when we fought against the ocean together. I guess that is what this column is about. It took me until getting to this point to realize why I decided to write about San Diego: it was a way to go back to a memory with people that I was once really close to.  As close as we all were, we never were any closer than that morning when the ocean attempted to take us.