I almost died when I was fifteen. I know that is a dramatic statement - even a melodramatic one - that can cause a reader to doubt the validity of anything I have to say, but it's true. I was fifteen and on a family vacation in Panama City Beach. We decided to take a boat a few miles off shore and visit Shell Island. Although I am a Pisces with a great love of water, I've never really liked the ocean. I don't like the sand and salt sticking to my skin and never knowing exactly what I'm stepping on as I ease into the surf. On this hot August day, my mom convinced me to play in the waves with her. We took a raft and bounced in the waves, with the undertow carrying us out further than we realized. A powerful dolphin watching boat rounded the rock cove that framed our swimming area, and we were pulled further out. Our feet could no longer touch the ocean floor and violent waves crashed over our heads. Although we are both strong swimmers, we were unable to fight our rapid progress towards the boat. We turned ninety degrees and swam towards the rocky sea wall. We reached the rocks, and tried to climb their slippery faces in a quest for stability. Mom grabbed my arm when she attained a perch, keeping a humongous wave from carrying me away. The waves surged towards us again, and I was lifted above the lowest rocks and deposited into a depression, jagged rocks all around me. The waves beat me between the rocks, tearing my swimsuit and the tender flesh beneath it. I had to move from this spot, yet mom wouldn't surrender her tether so I could climb. Another huge wave crashed over us, pulling me over the low rocks again, slapping mom after me, and loosening her grip on my arm. Mercifully, this wave shoved us towards the shore, and we were able to swim again. As we neared the shore, bodies bruised and bloodied, we tried to scream for help. Finally, people rushed out to haul us to the sandy beach. I remember the details of that experience so vividly, but the rest of the day is a blur. However, I do know a category two hurricane hit Panama City Beach that night. We had been on a small island in pre-hurricane conditions.
Even as I carry the scars of August 2, 1995 with me, I can't help but see it as a metaphor for my relationship with my mother. Mom only sees that I would have been lost had she not held on to me, whereas I know that at some point she had to let go so we could each be safe. It was out of her power to save me that day. We face the same struggle today. She wants to be my savior, and that's not what she's supposed to be. I have to stand on my own - be in control of my life. I've seen this dichotomy in our relationship for years, but I've started to see it in her relationship with M now, too. M spent a year in rehab. Three weeks after his graduation from his program, he got a DUI. Now, he's attending AA meetings to combat his drinking. I don't know if he's slipped up in other ways, because I'm kept isolated from the family where these things are concerned, but mom has again taken it upon herself to save M. Last night, she told me she has to help him, just like she had to save me on Shell Island. M has been drowning for years. The time for mommy to save him has passed. He needs to stretch his fins and swim on his own. Until he is accountable for himself, anyone else's best intentions are just paving the road to hell.