For the record: On Friday, September 2, I didn’t drown or get struck by lightning or drown because I was in a boat that was struck by lightning. Did I truly believe that one of those options could have been my fate? Yes, yes I did. Was danger really lurking in my neighborhood kicking over trashcans and this time it’s not the racoons? Oh, he was thumping on my door with a baseball bat. I mean it. Surprisingly, I didn’t turn off the lights and lay in a fetal position underneath my bed, praying for him to go away—I invited him in and remained remarkably cool even after danger decided to play Russian Roulette with my friends and me.
In lesser dire situations, I have the teensy-weensy tendency to embellish the probability of any actual danger to my life. And, what’s even worse is that I panic over mundane danger. I am sooo dramatic. I sprain my ankle on wet grass, and I’m certain my foot will need to be amputated. I hike on a trail littered with coy-dog paw prints and deer remains and wonder if I’ll make it out alive with all my limbs…and it’s daylight and there are three full-grown adults with me.
Knowing my low tolerance for adventure, I had always assumed that if put in a real life-threatening scenario, I would froth at the mouth and go comatose. However, this depiction of my behavior in the face of adversity would be in direct conflict with my other imagined self—the ultimate hero who spits on the face of adversity and leads her people to salvation.
I’m happy to say that neither of these fantasies played out on Friday, which is good because my life is not a movie and if it were, I think both characters I mentioned above—the shrieking girl who doesn’t run before Jason plows her over with a lawnmower or the spirited hero who gives her only parachute to a 10-year-old boy so he can escape before the plane crashes into a fiery pit filled with alligators and broken glass—would have perished.
What happened on Friday was incredible and was absolutely the closest I’ve ever been to dying (yes, there is a tad hint of that familiar drama there). The entire day had the makings of a made for TV movie on the Discovery channel. Kids, this is what not to do on a day trip. So a perilous outcome seemed inevitable when the storm clouds crept upon us.
It started out as such. I woke up at 3:50 a.m. to get on a red-eye flight to Charlotte, NC. From there, we drank mimosas, packed up a cooler with beer cans and flavor pops, and set off to sail on a clear and humid afternoon. The air was incredibly heavy and still, which proved incredibly difficult to assist in moving our sailboat forward at a pace faster than the lake current could already carry us.
No problem, we had a motor and a half-filled gas can and a deadline of 8:00 p.m. to make it back to the yacht club before they closed the gates on us. What could possibly go wrong when you’re pushing the limits on a hot and humid day in the south?
We pulled up to the restaurant, dined on delicious pub-style food (I made sure to do a Facebook check-in—doesn’t everyone care that I’m in Charlotte eating at a restaurant they never heard of?) and being mindful of the time, left our location with ample hours to spare before our Cinderella cut-off could make our ship turn back to a pumpkin, er, floating piece of dead wood.
That’s when I heard a waitress at the restaurant calmly ask her patrons to move inside because a storm was coming. Shit. Everyone was already on the boat waiting for my friend and me, so we started to run to get to the boat a few seconds quicker. In the process, I re-injured my already sprained ankle (YES!), and laughing through some slightly painful tears, we left the dock as my husband iced up my foot with a can of Miller Lite.
Oh, she came on quick, that squall. Lightning and thunder broke in the distance as the wind picked up. We remained fairly optimistic. “Oh, we’ll totally make it, that’s a slow-moving storm.” Then it all slowly began to turn to shit. The wind and rain got persuasive and nudged us ladies into the cabin of the boat. The boys remained outside. My husband still optimistic, “Look it’s sunny over there. That’s the direction we’re moving.” A few of us were not so cheery. “Can’t we just pull up to someone’s dock until it passes?”
How, I knew that we were about to be gobbled up by a severe thunderstorm. And the last place I want to be is in the middle of a large lake in a small boat affixed to a big straight rod of metal sticking way up into the sky. OMG, OMG, OMG, I should be freaking out. But I wasn’t. Why wasn’t I? Because I had a camera and felt the need to document our peril. And I was armed with my iPhone and felt I should tweet about this. Shiny technological distractions are glorious saviors.
So, I snapped a bunch of photos and sent a half-hearted tweet. And then everything really went to shit. My husband could no longer remain outside of the cabin. The rain was coming down so hard and the boat was lurching side to side because the wind was gusting up to 94 mph (we confirmed with a wind-surfing website that had clocked the speeds). The sky was so dark and the torrential downpour of water made it impossible for our boat captain to see the shore. It was a miracle he was able to spot the signs marking the shoals in enough time before we could run up on them.
At this point, my optimism staggered as I was forced to tuck my gadgets into my purse and away from the water now rushing in from outside. “Hey Julie, do you have some kind of watertight lock box for this?” I still had the good sense to preserve my gear and memories. At that moment, I was remained positive we were getting out of this one. She didn’t have a watertight lock box. Well, what are the odds of us sinking?
But then, our fearless captain hollers across gale force winds, “This is some shit. I’ve never seen it like this before.” And then, if that didn’t fill our hearts with pure elation, “I think we’re going to run out of gas.” That’s when Julie turns to us and says, “Okay Tracy, take off your dress. You’ll just sink in that. Kristina, take off your pants. Trust me. If we go over, you’ll need to swim.” I didn’t question. Life jackets began to get assigned. Not enough life jackets. I gave my husband my life jacket because I was a better swimmer than him. I grabbed a noodle and clutched it like rosary beads. This can’t possibly be happening, could it?
Julie calls the police to tell them the closest marker to the boat because she’s fairly certain we’re going down. While she’s on the phone with an officer, her husband Matt, the driver of the boat calls down to us to grab the anchor. My husband, Forest hands him the most obvious thing to us that could be an anchor. It was so obviously not an anchor. Amateurs! Julie thrusts the phone to Forest who begins to chat with the police officers while she locates the anchor and delivers it to Matt.
We’re really rocking violently back and forth and I’m beginning to wonder what the possible outcomes could be (lightning blowing us to smithereens) and the probability of our survival (if I’m far enough away from the mast…). We lose connection with the cops and Forest and I exchange a knowing look. I brace myself against the sides of the interior of the boat. And then my mind wanders into a social media Zen state. I think about my tweet and my check-in and my camera filled with photos.
It can’t possibly end like this, right? I mean, my iPhone really can’t get wet and my tweet was kind of lame and the restaurant we ate at wasn’t all that good. Will that really be my last social interface with the world? Who would even want to tell this story. It’s not heroic. It’s a cautionary tale at best. The only person on the boat who would have the heroic story to tell would be the man braving the storm to try and get us back to the shore. And he doesn’t even have a Facebook account! I’m just a wet girl in a bathing suit grasping a pink noodle, holding back tears.
And then, we see the yacht club and we round the peninsula and the wind lets up and the waves cease to dominate. We still have gas, we still have our lives. I don’t know if I should be laughing or crying or puking. We dock and I’m off the boat and I’m walking on my two legs and I’m so thrilled to be breathing.
My next thought (after the desire to embrace my husband) is, “I didn’t take enough photos of the storm! I missed the pictures of the waves. Darn, I should have tweeted right after we got ashore.” The urge to share and tell my epic story (because I did a piss poor job prior to) had me so duped into believing that the fates were on my side that I was able to pull through emotionally without turning into a rabid dog.
So, from now on out, my technology goes with me everywhere and the world gets regular, tame updates on my lack of status. Because until I’m the person who will compose a profound (and potentially ironic) observation on the psychological impact of freefall in under 140 characters while base jumping from the top of the Burj Khalifa, I think the odds are in my favor to keep me on this planet.