How Did I Get Here?

Waves are lapping against the gunnels of a rowboat that isn’t familiar to me. I see that I’m a good mile out from the coast and that the waves have suddenly become higher, as if I must have moved out past the protection of a projection in the shoreline. Then, with something like a shock, I notice that there must be a leak in the bottom of this rowboat, because the level of water sloshing in the bottom has risen above the slatted boards under my feet. It is not quite like the familiar feeling of shock, when something unexpected interrupts what has been unfolding moments before. It is more as if I am gradually coming into awareness, piece by piece, of myself sitting in a boat floating in the Mediterranean Sea, a mile off the southern coast of Italy.

Perhaps I am just tired from rowing and taking a break in the comfort of a day dream. Then a bailing-can tilts to one side, floats across the sloshing water, and bangs against my drenched shoes. I know I should start bailing. But somehow this thought doesn’t rouse me to action.

I am trying to hold onto something that is calling to me across the corridors of my mind. As I harken to this voice, I sense it is trying to deliver an important message. But its message is getting lost as the rowboat continues to fill up with water. Then a large wave strikes the gunnel, slaps my arm and face with its cold fingers, and I gasp in panic–shocked out of my dreamy state.

In its wake, images that place me in this boat crowd in. I remember the café latte I drank that morning in my Pension lodging, along with a sweet bun. I remember sitting in the boat an hour ago, with the racked oars on each side of me, as the fisherman who rented it to me is pointing to the bailing can and using his other hand to indicate something rising slowly; when I don’t understand, he points to the slats at the bottom of the boat and uses some Italian word I don’t recognize, which I now think may have been a word for the slats that are now under water.

In the back of my mind, even while these memories crowd in, the voice is asking me to hold onto something and protect it from the sensations that are seeping through my wet shirt and wet shoes. But it may be a losing battle. As if discovering jigsaw puzzle pieces that have fallen onto the floor, I now remember that I am on my third day of a three-week vacation from my programming job at Bell Canada in Montreal. And I remember someone fluent in Italian, whom I met at the Pension lodging, introducing me to a fisherman who was hanging up his nets.

As another large wave hits the gunnel and sloshes over me (adding almost a foot to the depth of the water in the bottom of the boat), I make a decision. It’s a decision that flies in the face of the world gathering around me and the choking that assails me after the next wave hits. I let myself believe that I am not really here in this body, in a leaky boat off the coast of an Italian village. In the wake of this decision, this deliberate ignoring, I realize that I once visited an Italian town like this one, on the Mediterranean coast, half a century ago.

As the next wave completely submerges the leaky boat—like when the incoming tide reaches a sand castle on a sandy beach—I am somewhere else.

I hear my mother’s voice.

“Do you have plans for today, dear?”

“Didn’t you die a long time ago, Mom?”

“If you say so, dear. Do you still like milk in your tea? I just made a fresh pot.”

“Where am I, Mom? I feel really strange.”

“It can feel like that at first. What I find helps is to notice what is right in front of me. There is so much to see and hear. So much to feel and explore. Do you see that bird on the branch of the elm tree through the kitchen window?

“Oh, there’s your father in the garden, waving to us. Let’s go outside. It’s such a beautiful day.”

One comment to “How Did I Get Here?”
  1. Michael! What a sobering question! How beautifully written… it seems like a dream… life, time slipped away right under my nose. As it’s going, in a self-induced spell can’t help but focus on the past, because the present is always just to frightening to face…

    Story of our life…

Leave a Reply