• 61°

Death on the far side of the world

Part 3 of a true account from Peggy’s memoir “Potato in A Rice Bowl”

Through the waves, Glen towed me over to a piece of wreckage and yelled for me to hang on. I reached out to grab onto something only to discover I couldn’t. I couldn’t hold onto anything. There at the lifesaving surface of the water, I found that even though my legs were now free from the ropes that had been holding me and my life jacket under water, I was now helplessly slipping down through the vest.

As I descended deep into the water, my arms were suddenly pulled into the vest and thrust skyward, forced straight up beside my ears. Bobbing in the waves, the tight vise of the jacket had become a stiff girdle making it impossible to bend my arms. Bizarrely, I was like a football referee whose arms were permanently frozen in a touchdown signal.

Wedged down in the jacket I was unable to see anything. Maybe not seeing was a blessing, I’ll never know, but a strange and very dangerous thing had just happened. Fully saturated—and with only a couple of straps across the front of the large jacket and no additional strap going between my legs to hold it in place—the vest had turned into a perilous canvas barrel with me deep inside it. In this swollen state, it was many times too big for me and I now found myself with my head at an arm’s length below the shoulders of the vest, blindly trapping me deep inside.

From the sky, it must have looked like a big plump orange was floating on the rough seas. No one would have guessed there was a person inside it. Me! I was literally floating blind in a gigantic ocean basin while secluded in muffled darkness. Of course I could not grab onto any wreckage. With my arms stiffly extended above me and bound tight by the unrelenting jacket, there was only one thing to hang onto—the neck opening of the bulbous life preserver.

With all the strength I had in my fingertips, I clutched it for dear life. The single other option was to let go and slip downward into the bottomless sea. No one would even be aware if it happened.

It was scary inside. Trapped there, my eyes and ears were where my waist should have been. The blackness, the churning water and the blurred sounds struck me as the way it must be for a fetus, confined tightly in its mother’s womb, to be floating in the swirling pool of amniotic fluid.

In the confined space, I forced my head backwards and looked up. There above me, as though peering through a pipe, I could make out the round circle of the noontime sky. To my horror, it had turned from brilliant sunshine into a menacingly dark void. When we set out that morning, none of us had been aware that a serious storm was brewing. Now we were its victims.

The agitated waves were tossing me about like a scrap of buoyant balsa wood. In the scale of things, I knew the three of us were completely insignificant in that broad expanse of sea; only small flotsam. Or were we jetsam? I wasn’t sure.

I desperately needed to see what was happening. This I realized would take more strength than I feared I had. Submerged to where the water was sloshing under my chin, I studied the situation. I found that when a strong wave hit, I was pushed upward. Gearing for the next upsurge, I pulled with all my might and peered over the neck of the vest. What I then saw for the first time was the severity of our predicament. Beyond our debris there was only water. No land in sight. No other vessels of any kind.

It was too exhausting to hang on any longer and I let myself once again slip down into the inky, suffocating blackness. I remember being astonishingly clear headed wondering if the Japanese babysitter would wait for my parents to organize their rescue mission from the other side of the world. Yes, our little boys would have a good life with them in Minnesota. But, still ….

Suddenly I heard a muffled sound. It came through the distorted layers of my sodden jacket and sounded like Gordon was shouting “ship”!!!Hope suddenly surged through me. Painstakingly I pulled myself upward with my fingertips and looked over the neck of the jacket. Yes, I could just make out a ship in the far distance. It, of course, could see us, couldn’t it? And, yes, it was turning in our direction, wasn’t it?

(to be continued)