I’m standing on the spine of the South Jetty as the tide goes out. I’m far enough from the shore that I won’t be able to swim in if I have second thoughts about suicide.
To the west the ocean horizon is cloudless but vague in the pre-dawn twilight. To the south the beach stretches on forever and the inland hills merge with a blue-gray hydrocarbon haze. The waves below are immature things that belch up abruptly from the black depths and spit white foam across the dark volcanic boulders that form the steep sides of the jetty.
I keep starting to write in my buoyancy journal. In my head, of course. Everything’s there. Every word I’ve ever read or written, the reams of base-pair sequences from work, and every detail of every day I’ve breathed air since I was 23 months old.
When things get me down I make a list of the reasons why they shouldn’t.
First off, I shouldn’t feel bad about what I’m doing here because I’m defending James. That’s honorable. Second, I won’t be lying in a hospital bed with tubes in my veins and everyone feeling guilty for not dropping everything and sitting bored stiff with me until I die.
My buoyancy lists are never long, but they’re powerful against depression. I read them slowly, one word at a time, over and over until my subconscious mind, the big math wizard who hardly speaks English, understands. And I feel better. It’s like magic. I want you to try it.
I’m going to leave my boots on, I guess. But I really love these things. They’re size five, extra wide. Hard to find. I better take them off so someone else can use them.
I almost forgot, Ojiichan’s chopsticks are still in my hair. They’re antiques, engraved with the Japanese character for poison – I don’t know why. I pull them out of my hair, take off my boots and then lay the chopsticks sideways across the toes. I hope no one steps on them.
It’s fifteen feet down to the busy water – surging and receding. I’m not afraid of heights, but I’ve always been chicken about jumping off high-dives. It’s the falling. I hate that feeling. Plus I’m a terrible swimmer. My body is too dense. I’m not all that skinny, so it really doesn’t make sense.
OK, just go. Jump in.
My knees are bent. This is it.
I’m holding my breath… Not sure why I’d be doing that. It’s kind of the opposite of why I’m here.
Now I’m over-thinking.
A truck’s coming on Jetty Road. I should do this before it gets here.
Come on, Johanna. Now!
It’s not a truck, it’s a Hummer. No, it can’t be Maxwell.
I told James about him last week. A guy I met at work. A child psychologist who deals exclusively with depressed kids. Once or twice a month Maxwell shows up at work as early as I do and corners me for small talk.
I suck at small talk.
“How ’bout those Seahawks!”
How ’bout Max Planck? Energy only comes in small digital packets: Planck’s constant. If that’s not weird to you – if that doesn’t turn your world upside-down, I’m afraid we’re different.
Earth: Eggheads and Jocks.
Maxwell’s both. So is James in his own way. I’m just an egghead. Though I do push weights and use the treadmill. And I can lift a tall stack of books, let me tell you.
Talmage thinks I do too much telling and not enough showing. Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt my feelings.
The sky is neuromancer-gray now, light enough to show the color of the Hummer which is Army Green. That means it is him. It’s fricking Maxwell Mason. Doing a hundred miles an hour on that tiny road. His life’s probably in more danger than mine at the moment.
Slow down, Max!
It’s a pretty straight road. No traffic at all since that Harley. Max should be fine.
No, I don’t believe that either.
He’s slowing down a little. This is good. Now he’s skidding through the parking lot. This is bad. Dust everywhere. His front tires bunny hop a log and finally he stops.
Man, this is going to be embarrassing if I don’t even have the nerve to jump. People are going to say I was trying to get attention. I hate it when people say that about girls who try to kill themselves and fail.
Nobody’s going to say that about me.
I take a breath on the way down and feel like a hypocrite for it.
For a split second it’s good to hit the water because it stops that lost-viscera feeling of falling. But under the water the world is black and colder than anything I’ve ever felt.
My arms and legs are kicking on their own. I try to stop them but they won’t stop. I try to make myself breath water but my head is pounding with the cold. It’s like a cluster headache or a good poke in the skull with a screwdriver. I can’t think of much else.
My head breaks the surface. The jetty rocks are three feet away and covered with white barnacles and brown mussels that look like dead incisors. I move away from them, not wanting to be a shredded mess at my funeral.
My arms are weakening from the cold. I finally make them stop paddling, and then force my legs to stop flailing.
I blow all my air out and prepare to inhale. The salt water will flow into my lungs. Osmosis will do terrible things to my red cells. My coughing and gag reflexes will be overwhelmed.
I want to breathe. The desire is growing with every heartbeat. It’s just that I don’t want to breathe water.
Yes, breathe water.
Something grabs my arm and pulls. I’m on my back looking up at the sky with an arm across my chest. It’s a thick arm with Maxwell’s watch on the wrist. I gasp for air and it fills my lungs with the greatest joy I’ve ever known.
There’s a surface beneath us. It rises and lifts us out of the water. I’m on hands and knees looking over the edge of a round, silent thing that’s exactly the color of the sky and the texture of the stingray I touched at Maui Ocean Center on my ninth birthday. A circular opening appears beside me and a female voice with the vaguest Indian accent says, “Come inside quickly, both of you. I’ve never been so worried in my life.” A human hand reaches out and touches the skin on my left forearm and rubs it briskly. “You must be freezing. Let’s get you warmed up.” I lean over the edge of the opening and look down to see her face. I’m startled. It’s Mahani Teave, the renowned concert pianist of Easter Island.
My first thought, stupid as this sounds, is to ask for her autograph. I own all Mahani’s CD’s. She’s amazing. I’m a pianist myself.
The pictures on her CD’s flash by and I make comparisons. This girl’s freckles are in the wrong places.
“Who are you?” I ask and start coughing so loud and hard I can’t hear her answer.
M. Talmage Moorehead
If you want, please read this story from page one (beginning with Johanna’s unorthodox prologue). It starts here.
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