In the summer of 1986 I was about four months pregnant and visiting Rehoboth for the first time with my in-laws and our best friends from college. My first husband and I were young, relatively broke, and grateful for an all-expenses paid vacation.
I hated Rehoboth almost immediately. I had grown up swimming in Lake Erie and on Cape Cod, where there was no developed boardwalk. When we moved to Connecticut, our beaches on Long Island Sound were equally boardwalk-less. I was used to beaches in their natural state with no commercial development accompanying them. That was what I wanted: beach, shells, smooth stones, dunes, beach grasses.
I was not a happy camper. Still, I was completely unprepared for what was to come.
I was twenty-six, pregnant, and a wave took me out in a matter of seconds. I was less than five feet from shore, with water up to my knees, and suddenly--boom--faceplant. I was stunned. I tried to get up and couldn't. As the water pulled away from the shore, it sucked me face down into the sandy gravel beneath me. My sense of balance was most likely compromised by pregnancy. I couldn't stand up. I was face down in about one foot of water and I could not stand up.
Another wave put me off balance, then another pull of the tide sucked me down.
I had one of those end-of-life discussions with myself. "This is humiliating. I can't believe I am drowning in one foot of water." I reached one hand above the water and waved feebly for help. I thought, in a last-ditch bargaining attempt, "Not for me, Lord, but for the life of my unborn child." It was the best argument I had.
My friend Buffy, now Alice's godmother, managed to pull me up. Buffy, about ninety-eight points dripping wet, hauled me up and saved my life. And, by association, Alice's. Years of swimming along the Jersey shore paid off for her. I grew up swimming in beaches without significant waves, but she was ready.
Since that day I have not gone in the water at Rehoboth. Period. Until today. Yesterday I watched my younger daughter get knocked down, stand up, and get knocked down again. She struggled out and sat on her beach towel, angry and defeated. "I don't like this beach. I like the waves at Great Wolf Lodge better." (That would be an indoor wave pool, controlled by machinery.)
And so I had to do it. I had to venture out to just beyond where the waves were breaking, and enjoy the calmer waters on the other side. And I had to bring her out with me, to show her she could do it. That we could do it.
What makes us push ourselves to overcome our fears? There has to be something bigger prompting us. For me it was realizing that opening a door for my daughter was more important than clinging to an awful memory. Cutting through the fear, moving through the waves to the calmer waters, requires a radical change of mental state. Without that, we may struggle, or try, or attempt. Only when our thinking changes can we "do" it.
I hope that it won't take me twenty-six more years to do it again.