It was fifteen years ago now, in 2000, when I packed my bags and headed to Cuernavaca, Mexico to study Spanish for 21 days. I went with my sister and two of my sorority sisters who also studied Spanish in college.
They called it the “city of eternal spring” because the weather was always the perfect temperature. Not too cold. Not too hot. Just perfect. We spent our mornings in class, our afternoons by the pool or napping and our nights drinking, dancing and partying into the wee hours of the morning.
The culture was colorful and playful and most the time we enjoyed ourselves. I didn’t follow the directions of our teachers and made friends with locals who weren’t good people. But I was never very good at following directions so I did what I wanted regardless of consequences. Simply put, it was dangerous behavior seeing as I really had no idea where I was or who I was with. But dangerous behavior, I was used to by that point.
When we were finally done with our three week study program our class traveled to Acapulco for a few days of relaxation before heading home. Our hotel was close to the beach and it was hot so we headed down to the water to stay cool.
The teachers warned us of high tide and big waves. They told us not to get in the water past 3:00 p.m. but since we were on the beach we had no idea what time it was. The water was inviting and I spent most the time letting the water sway me back and forth.
I remember leaning my head back, closing my eyes and forgetting about the world. About myself. I was now 20 but it had been nothing but a struggle from the time I was 16-years-old. I wanted to erase it. Those twenty minutes I could never get back. Never. Such a miniscule part of my life and yet it followed me everywhere I went. It followed me to college where I still struggled to move on every single day. Twenty minutes, which ultimately changed the course of my life forever.
When I opened my eyes I saw my sister and friends waving at me. I was facing them on the beach and wondered why they were waving so fervently at me. I waved back. And then I was swallowed. Swallowed by the weight of a huge wave. But I had no idea that’s what it was at the time.
It hit me hard, knocked me off of the intertube and pushed me under the water. My eyes were still open, stinging from the salt of the water, but rapidly trying to gather information about what had just happened. I was thrown and tossed about and didn’t know which way was up or down. All I knew is I couldn’t breathe. I was under water but how far under I had no clue. I was reaching and grabbing and trying to find a way to the top. I couldn’t see sky, only murk and dirt and an unending swirl of seaweed whipping against my body.
I wasn’t sure how long this torture had lasted but it felt like forever. Forever or twenty minutes. Twenty minutes or forever? This question pushing me down like the water.
And this one – am I dying? Is this the end of me?
As suddenly as I’m swept under I’m then washed ashore. My body covered in sand. I’m crying. Crying so hard. My sister is standing above me as I try to understand what happened.
Apparently the wave behind me was big. Everyone else could see it. But I couldn’t. I was blind to it because I wasn’t facing in the direction of the wave. So it hit me without warning sending me under while everyone watched and wondered if I would survive.
The tide was strong and I worked against it, arms grabbing for anything to hold onto – a total loss of control. I was unable to find something to save me. But as sure as the wave had taken me down, it released me. It allowed me a second chance as it calmed and carried me back to safety.
I stood up. Dried my tears. Looked back at the ocean, searching for the wave that took me down. But it had already gone and new waves came in place of it.
I was only under for twenty seconds. But it felt like twenty minutes. A fight for my life against the wave that would, indeed, last forever. But provide me with a memory of how precious this life is.