by Jeff Davis
I hear water sloshing against the sides of the boat. I’m lying face down in the bottom of a boat. Not a boat. A life raft. It’s yellow, inflatable, and shallow. For a split second, I forgot that I am in a boat. Or a raft or that I’m adrift in the middle of the ocean. But then I taste the salt from the puddle of water my face is lying in.
I am suddenly aware of the sun bearing down upon me like Superman’s red laser beam eyes. I’m about to burst into a ball of flame. My god it’s so hot. Sitting up, I look around as if I’ve just woke from a dream. I look around and yes, I’m in a raft in the middle of the ocean. It wasn’t a dream.
Then I remember the plane crash. It’s not like it is in the movies. In the movies, the passengers feel the turbulence, the flight crew assures them that it’s just a patch of bad weather; we’ll be through it soon. In the movies, the turbulence gets worse until the captain comes over the loud speaker. It makes that SCHSSSST noise when he presses the microphone button, “Uh, ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking, we, uh, we’re having some, uh, unexpected pockets of high pressure, uh, please review the emergency landing procedures located in the pocket of the seat directly in front of you. Oh, please don’t panic, this is routine precaution, we prepare for situations like this” SCHSSSST. In actuality, it happens much faster than that. The plane started shaking like a fat hooker on a cold night. The oxygen masks came down faster than your mom’s dress on prom night. How did Tyler Durden put it? Calm as Hindu cows. Next thing I know I’ve got my head between my knees and I’m kissing my ass goodbye. The old lady next to me was whispering Hail Marys, I started thinking who’s going to miss me most, my wife and kids or my credit card companies. That’s about as far as I got before the crash.
The sound was incredible. I was front row at Metallica at PSINet Stadium in Baltimore in ’98, and I swore then that I would never hear anything louder. But Dios Mio, it was nothing compared to a 100 – ton 747 doing a belly flop in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. All the windows shattered, the overhead baggage compartment doors flew open, baggage spewed out, and the emergency lights came on.
The impact completely took the wind out of me. I was coughing and wheezing, grabbing my gut. It felt like the seat belt had nearly cut me in half at the waist. I reached down to pull it off, but the latch was so tight I couldn’t move it. I looked over at the old lady. I was sure that the impact had killed her, Christ it had nearly killed me. She wasn’t moving. I gave her a shake by the shoulder to see if she would respond. Nothing. Old bitch was dead. How’d those Hail Marys work for you? Are you in Heaven?
I couldn’t hear anything. I didn’t know if my ears were fucked because of the loudness of the impact, or if everyone else was dead and this was the sound of complete silence. I started looking around and thought that I saw people moving, but I couldn’t hear them. The emergency lights were still on, but it was pitch black outside. The plane was pitched forward, and we were leaning to the left, as if we had the left wing dipped in the ocean. I started to smell sea water. If I didn’t get out of this epic fail of a fish bowl, I was going to drown. I started tugging at the release latch on the belt. It wouldn’t budge. I looked around me to find something to cut the belt with. There were little shards of glass all around me, but it was that greenish safety glass so I would have had a better chance of whipping my dick out and using that to try to cut the belt. I was starting to panic, and was tugging absentmindedly at the latch, when all of a sudden it let go and I slid from my seat to the nether region between my seat the seat if front of me. My knee slammed against the bracket holding the seat to the floor. It was like hitting my funny bone. It hurt, but the hurt didn’t really register as pain. More like the feeling you get when you fall up the stairs. Derp. The derp feeling. I started scrambling to get some kind of balance, or stability and start trying to get the fuck out of here.
I noticed my hearing start to come back when the plane shifted and rotated to the left. I heard what I thought was someone yelling into a coffee can. The emergency lights cast a dull, yellow, institutional-like glow. Across the aisle, I saw a man waiving at mean. I saw his lips moving, and I could hear him talking, but it was as if he were whispering. I started to make my way to the man, simply so I could hear what he was saying to me. I had to use the seats and balance myself on anything that was attached to the floor. The sea water was filling up the cabin. I didn’t realize it, but we were moments from sinking. The open windows were letting water in quickly. Realizing this, I suddenly felt the need to stop giving a fuck about what this guy was saying to me, and save myself. I looked over at the man. I looked at the water coming in the windows. He saw on my face that I was about to split. I could read his lips now, in addition to being able to hear his whispers. HELP ME. PLEASE, MAN, HELP ME. I figured I should at least try to help the guy, so I made my way over. I was close enough to hear him now.
“Dude, we gotta get outta here.” He said to me.
“No shit. The fuck you think I’m doing?” I was irritated. “What’s the problem here?”
“The fucking belt dude, it’s stuck” he whined.
“Mine was too, just keep pulling at it” I advised him.
“Find something to cut it please!” He exclaimed. I was wasting time by talking to him.
I turned my head and suddenly the plane shifted to the left again and forward. We were about to somersault into the ocean. In a few minutes, we’d be fish food. The water had flowed far enough toward the rear of the plane that the man’s feet were starting to get wet. I stared down at his feet and watched the water creep, slowly filling the cabin and pulling us closer to the deep. I was mesmerized by the water coming in. I wanted to watch it. I wanted to fall asleep watching the water seep up this man’s leg. I shook my attention back to the matter at hand. Help this guy get out of here with me.
Another shifting and the water was ebbing in too quickly now. Knees were covered, waist was next. I reached down to the man’s waist and started tugging at the latch. He was panicking now, which, of course is understandable. He was yelling and starting to cry. He was kicking at the water, trying to keep it at bay. At the waist now. My hands were underwater tugging at the belt. I pulled at it with as much strength as I could. My hand slipped off it. He was still kicking and now trying to splash the water away. I reached down to try the latch on the belt again, but I couldn’t find it. I kept trying, but he was flailing around so much I couldn’t find it. The water was chest high now. I had run out of time.
I still had no way out. The water had to be coming it from a large opening, but I had no idea where. The best I could do was to try and climb as far to the back of the plane as I could. The man knew it. He grabbed my arm.
“Dude, don’t leave me! Please, help me!” he begged.
“I, I can’t.” I felt deflated. I knew if I stayed any longer we were both dead. That didn’t make sense to me. To give myself over to the sea when I could still save myself, well, it wasn’t rational.
I looked him in the eye, and I said, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
I started to scramble toward the back of the plane, climbing atop seats, pulling myself up. I could hear the man yelling for me, crying. It was then that I realized my hearing was coming back. Just in time to hear him tell me, “Fuck you then! I hope you fucking drown too” and then
I heard nothing again.
The emergency lights started to get dimmer, and I began to realize I was still trapped. What if I ended up drowning anyway? The man had cursed me. Should I have just stayed with him so that neither of us would have to die alone? I felt myself starting to panic. The water was rushing toward me faster now nipping at my heels like an annoying little doggie. Fuck, I had to keep going.
I started reaching up over my head to grab something to continue my progress. I was crouched on a window seat with my back against the cabin wall. The plane was almost completely vertical by now. I clawed at the wall above my head, searching for anything to grab. The end of the baggage compartment, maybe. I felt something at my fingertips. I stretched and swung my right arm along the wall. I could barely feel something. I knew this was my only chance. Water was at my ankles now. I jumped and banged my knuckles against something metal. I jumped again and tried to grab whatever I could. I must have jumped up 10 times trying to grab whatever the hell it was. The water was at my waist now and jumping wasn’t getting any easier. I looked around and noticed some luggage floating nearby. Could I stand on something to make myself taller and reach higher?
Fuck it, might as well try.
I grabbed the closest suitcase, and pushed it under the water. This proved to be more of a challenge than I’d hoped. Eventually, I was able to get the suitcase low enough into the water to stand on it. This gave me the added inches I needed. I reached up and grasped the metal. I used my legs to pull myself up. I was at the end of an aisle. I was holding the emergency door handle. I was able to stand on the end of the baggage compartment and gain another reprieve. I had a new set of downs, now. I gave myself a few minutes and started working on the emergency door.
I pushed and pulled at it, but it wouldn’t budge. I suddenly remembered my first car. My mind drifted for a moment. I was changing a tire. Or rather, I was trying to change a tire. I was pushing and pushing on the tire iron, but the lug nut wouldn’t budge. My mom was there. She said, “How would your father do it?” She said. She was saying, don’t be a wimp, do it like your father would. I gritted my teeth, bore down and cranked the tire iron with anger, and rage. That’s how my father would have done it.
So, here we are again. I grabbed the bar with both hands as tightly as I could. I drove my shoulder up as hard as I could, put my weight into it, with anger and rage. Just like dad. The bar moved an inch. It moved, though just the same. I grabbed the handle again and repeated the motion – driving my shoulder with all my weight behind it – into the handle and pressing up. The door swung open and cold ocean air rushed into the cabin. I couldn’t believe it. ‘’Oh my god!” I cried. “Holy shit!!” I climbed up through the emergency door. A yellow raft had deployed automatically when the handle had been released. I jumped from the edge of the door right into the yellow raft. I lay on my back, breathing heavily, sweating profusely, cussing the plane, and then I thought of the man. He’d tried to curse me but it didn’t work. “FUCK YOU, THEN!!!” I screamed into the ocean air. Then, I cried myself to sleep.
Sharks. I hate them. I’m terrified of them. How do you defend against a Great White shark? You don’t. You die. End of story. Tiger sharks, Mako Sharks, Lemon Sharks, Loan Sharks, Card Sharks, they’re all assholes. I went to The Outer Banks on vacation once with some friends. Friends who surf and love the beach. I barely went into the water up to my chest. I had to carry a knife with me. For real. What the fuck is a 3 inch blade going to do against a goddam Great White Shark? My theory was that I would poke the sonofabitch in the eye with my little knife if I were attacked. I understand completely that sharks are animals, and they work on instinct, and when a shark does attack a human, more often than not, it’s a mistake on the shark’s part. The shark bites, determines ‘Ew, that’s not a fish’ and leaves. I understand completely that the odds of getting attacked by a shark are astronomical. I understand that my fear of sharks is irrational. Fear is irrational. I’m ok with that. When the hell am I going to have to be in a situation where I might meet up with a shark anyway?
When my plane goes down in the middle of the Pacific and I’m stuck on a rubber dinghy. That’s when. So, there I was, in a rubber dinghy in the middle of the Pacific. No water, no food. No protection from the sun, no protection from the rain. Honestly, I’ll probably starve to death before I even see a shark, I convinced myself. I spent the first day gazing out completely transfixed on the vastness of the ocean. There was absolutely nothing but ocean as far as I could see in any direction. I tried yelling for help once. It sounded like I was yelling into a pillow. My voice didn’t carry, it was dispersed by the wind and absorbed into the waves. I laughed at the futility of it. It really was comical. I imagined watching myself on the big screen in a movie theater and laughed. Won’t do that again. Waste of time.
When you spend your days staring at nothing, two things can happen. Either you are lulled into a trance or if something does enter yourview, you miss it, or you’re hypersensitive to anything that changes about your view. At night, I felt the former. Sometimes it was bright because the sky was clear. It was beautiful. The stars twinkled and the moon looked down on my little rubber dinghy. I realized how small and insignificant I really was. If you can imagine being pulled from your place on Earth by a string, and watching the ground or your house, or your car getting smaller and smaller until it completely disappears, you can almost comprehend the vastness of which I speak. Now hold that image and imagine seeing the outline of your town, your state, your country, shrinking as the string keeps pulling you higher and higher. Ultimately, it all disappears and the existence of what you may hold dear to you is irrelevant to your immediate needs. None of it matters anymore.
Yes, it gets depressing. Really depressing. I had to shake myself out of it more than once. Many a time I would lay on my back in the rubber dinghy and anxiety and panic would set in as I pondered my fate. Often, I would imagine myself succumbing to the desperation of it all and letting myself fall into the water, abandoning the relative safety of the boat and letting the ocean swallow me, becoming one with it. Then I would think of the sharks and scrap that idea. Every time I would imagine being pecked at from below by whatever species of shark happened to be trolling the depths I would regain a sense of survival. I wouldn’t let those ugly sonofabitches have me. I’d rather starve to death than let them have my flesh.
During the day, I was hypersensitive to anything and everything that came into view because it was rare that anything came into view. There were a lot of birds always squawking around. Mostly they were seagulls, I think. They were white with black tipped wings. Sometimes larger birds with really long wingspan would swoop down and snatch something from the water, but they never got close enough for me to really analyze them. I often wondered if the seagulls were waiting for me to die so that they could peck at my eyes. I wondered if they saw me as a stranger to them, if they were curious.
Occasionally a bird would land on the side of the raft. I would watch it and try to interact with it like you would a little dog you came across on a lonely walk through the country. “Come here little fella…”. Make little kissy noises at it. Where does that come from anyway? Make a little kissy noise to get a little dog or cat to come closer. Is it supposed to be attractive to the beast? Is it supposed to be intrigued by the strange sound coming from this two-legged being? Anyway, I would try to get the attention of the little visitor. It probably knew that if it got close enough I would snap its neck and eat it raw. Just like I knew that if I got close enough to a shark it would bite me in half.
By the second or third day I’d run out of things to consider as options. I had no way of moving this little vessel in any one particular direction. I had no way of know how fast I was moving or in what direction I was moving. I had the Sun, of course, and that helped. I had no nautical instruments, and no idea how to use them if I did. All I had was patience and the will to live. Sometimes I didn’t have either of those.
At the end of the third day, I felt that I might be dying. I’d not had food or water for almost 5 days. I could no longer filter my own piss through my tattered white t-shirt and drink it. I had no implements with which to attempt to catch fish. The Sun had been bearing down relentlessly and my skin was hot to the touch, even when the sun was down. I spent the dark hours shivering and huddled near an edge of the boat. Those were the times I felt most like giving up. I was the loneliest man in the world.
I sat in the dinghy dozing in the late afternoon haze. The sun was not scorching me today, as a layer of low clouds created a barrier between us. Suffering, baking, roasting, I began to feel that this would be the end. Should I sleep now, I’d never awaken. My brain would boil in my skull and I would die in my sleep. Perhaps a stroke-like event would cause me to seize for a split second and I would feel the synapses within malfunction and discharge violently. I’d rather that than a simple snore as my last breath. However it happens, I’m welcoming it.
My eyes closed just as the layer of cloud dissipated overhead. The sun beamed down upon me and I felt myself slipping into unconsciousness. I started to imagine bursting into flames right then and there, but the dreamlike state presented me instead with a vision of a fire engine racing through a busy intersection. “What… the… fuck…” I mumbled. I opened my eyes, shielding them from the sun, and glanced above. The sky was deep blue to my left, but a black shroud approached from my right.
Far off in the distance, a black shroud of clouds had emerged. I could not seem to comprehend what was happening. I felt as though I was hallucinating. I sat in wonder at what was approaching. Then the breeze came. A simple sea breeze passed over me and I caught the smell of ozone in the air. My wits started to return. A storm was coming. No longer would I be lulled to death by the smothering heat. I began to the think of the other ways I could potentially meet my end. Drowning was the most likely. I had to stay in the dinghy for as long as possible in order to stay alive for as long as possible. If I managed to ride out the storm, but lost my vessel, I would surely be fish food. Shark bait. Fucking sharks.
The first thunder clap was soft, like a marching band in a parade across town. Each subsequent burst of sound became increasingly louder. I watched as purple, blue, and white lightning bolts flashed within the blackness of the clouds.
The breeze picked up considerably and the dinghy began to ride the growing swells. The waves started to crest higher than the dinghy sat in the water. It was then that I realized it wouldn’t be long before I was consumed not by the storm, but by the precursor. I wouldn’t even make it to the storm; I’d sink long before then. I started to panic. I was out of options. I had nowhere to turn. I felt the dinghy rise and fall with each crest and trough that passed. The waves were coming from all directions. The storm was beginning to rage.
The dinghy was equipped with a nylon cord about ½” in diameter strung through metal eyelets that ran along the edge. The eyelets were stitched into flaps that were in turn stitched into the fabric of the dinghy. There were two eyelets on each side, three at the bow and three at the stern. The cord was tied to itself at the ends, at the stern. My only hope was to lash myself to the dinghy in such a way as to keep hold even if I should become removed from it. As we took on more and more water, an idea came to me. I untied the cord and made a loop on one end. I pulled the cord through the loop and put my wrist through the sliding loop. I didn’t know the first thing about tying knots. Slipknot was a metal band, as far as I was concerned. I then pulled the opposite end out of each eyelet. Now I had a cord about 15 feet long. In order for my plan to keep me alive at all, I would have to flip the vessel over. Otherwise, I’d take in too much water and the dinghy would be under water in no time. So here I am, trying to rig this half-assed plan all the while the rubber dinghy is being bounced all around the tumult. While still upright, I threaded the cord through the eyelets diagonally from each other. This made an “X” in the middle of the dinghy with ends on opposite sides. My plan was to flip her over, lash the ends around my wrists and hold on while the sea took me where it may. I sat there looking at my Cat’s Cradle of a life preserver and shook my head. “If I get out of this alive… ah, fuck it. Who am I kidding?” Holding one end of the cord, I eased myself into the frothy water. Bobbing up and down with the waves, I had to get the dinghy flipped over, while maintaining the cord in the eyelets. Easier said than done, of course. I struggled with getting the dinghy flipped over. More than once I tried to abandon the plan, but my left wrist was already lashed to the raft with the cord. I couldn’t even drift away from it now. Finally, it took all my leg strength to kick under water fast enough to propel my torso high enough to get the dinghy over. By now, the cord had slipped out of the eyelets opposite of me. The sea carried me up and down, as I clung to the raft trying to figure out what to do. I had to get the cord secured enough to the dinghy so as to not separate us. Fortunately, the cord remained through the two eyelets closest to me. I gathered the remaining cord and held it in my teeth. My attempt to climb atop the overturned dinghy began. I quickly became discouraged. The rubber fabric was too slick to grasp. I was spent, physically, emotionally, mentally, you name it, I was done with it. I wanted to just dip below the surface, open my mouth and breathe the water into my lungs.
At that moment, at the end, even when my heart and my head agree to throw in the towel, my mind drifts to a simpler time. On the sea, again, I’m in a larger, proper vessel. I’m terrified of the sharks. I’m terrified to leave the safety of the cabin and venture to the deck to enjoy the sea breeze, warm sun, and salt air. Weeping incessantly, my father wraps his arm around my shoulder and pulls me close. “Come on, pal,” he says with a chuckle, “there’s nothing to be afraid of. What are you afraid of? Sharks? Bah! If I see a shark, I’ll poke him in the nose!” He bops me gently on my wet, red little nose. He was so big and strong to me then. Nothing could hurt me.
At that moment, I was no longer afraid. Nothing mattered, the storm, the sea, the dinghy, fuck it all. Sharks? I hope I see a shark. I’ll bust his head. Then, the rain started.
Just like an actual plane crash, a storm at sea isn’t anything like it’s depicted on television or the movies. First of all the sound is not all thunder claps and waves crashing. It’s white noise. It’s like the hiss of a TV station that has gone off the air. It’s a long hissssssssssss that never changes pitch, never changes volume. Rain pummeling the ocean water all around me is deafening.
The dark came quickly. I’d lost track of time, space, nothing seemed real anymore. I tumbled under the waves that crashed constantly. I clung to the cord that was tied to the dinghy. Sometimes the waves over took us. Sometimes the waves threw us through the air. Sometimes we were crushed between the waves. I would choke, and scream, and the currents would pull me under, but the cord kept me attached to the dinghy. Just when I thought I was under for the final time, a surge would push me up and I would gasp for air. I would gasp, and half of my intake would be air, the other half would be water.
Time went by, as it is inclined to do. The storm surged and cast me about like clothes in a dryer, but the sea didn’t take me. It was as if I’d been swallowed, but not digested, and regurgitated. The rain stopped. The wind and the waves persisted though. Eventually, the black started to turn to lighter shades of gray. The night was ending, and dawn was approaching. I’d begun to see the first pinkish hues from the horizon as the sun started to rise. Looking around, I saw the dinghy, still bobbing along with the big waves. Suddenly, I felt myself being pulled backward. I was being pulled with the tide to the crest of a wave. It happened so fast, I can only understand it now from memory. Just as suddenly as I was pulled into the wave, I was spat from it and smashed against the dinghy, which in turn smashed against a reef that jutted from the depths and rose above the surface.
Memories from that point forward are in pieces. I remember floating in calm water. I remember riding on waves while my face felt the warm sun. I remember seeing a fin protruding from the water. I remember that I wasn’t afraid of the fin protruding from the water. I remember sinking into bright blue water, clear water. I remember closing my eyes and the air leaving my lungs in bubbles. I remember a push from below and behind, and breaching the surface before taking the final breath that would have ended this ordeal. It felt like a kick. A gently kick, but forceful enough to propel you forward. The same kick that you’d give a puppy to urge him gently through a doorway, a friendly nudge. I took that gasp of air deep into my lungs, eyes wide as saucers. Dawn’s light was upon me now, and I saw the outline of a palm tree against the sky. I began to flail wildly in the water, attempting to swim to the tree. My legs and arms ached; my head pounded a thousand drums. My eyes were like sandpaper. My foot brushed something in the water. The ocean floor was within reach. I bicycle-kicked my legs to feel the sand in my toes. I pulled myself through the water until I could stand. Though I’d not stood for several days, how many, I’ll never know, my feet applauded as they planted firmly for a brief moment. I was too weak to stand for long. I collapsed to my knees, pushed my hands into the rocky sand. I crawled from the sea like my ancestors millions of years ago. Oh, how we’ve come full circle. As I dragged myself forward, panting, exhausted, I saw the palm trees, the green grass on cliffs above me. Finally out of the sea, alive, but for how long? It mattered not. I lived.
I collapsed onto my back and screamed into the air. “FUCK YOU, THEN!!” Then I cried myself to sleep.