It was a strange morning.
It was very overcast and the surf was much bigger than usual. I felt something was off. I had been longing to be in the water for some time, but I had not been able to get myself back into the icy liquid. I kept reminding myself how good it feels afterwards and what a fantastic day I always had when I swam. This particular morning, I found myself alone and decided there is no time like the present to face myself and manage my mind. So, I pulled on my costume and headed to the beach.
It would turn out to be a decision that changed my life.
My swimming group had already set off. The sewage spill at our usual swimming spot meant that many of us were going in at other swimming areas. I observed the current and decided to keep to one specific area as the sea was rougher than usual and I wanted a calmer spot to get my strokes in. The bay was also quieter that morning as many people had opted not to swim with the sewage situation.
Just then I saw some members of my group on their way back from the swim and I swam out to greet them.
We chatted for a while, and they warned me that the sea was rough. We joked about how we swam in worse conditions, and I assured them that I did not want to go far. However, unbeknownst to me, whilst we were talking, we had begun to drift. They turned to swim on. I tried to swim away from where we were, back to where I intended swimming, but it was too late.
I was caught in the current.
I called for help but the ocean was too loud as they focused on getting back to shore. I kept calling for help and calling. No one heard me. The land was getting smaller and smaller as the rip took me out. I called for help. I called to God. Later I would hear that a woman I know heard me and thought I was fine once I stopped calling as I swim often, and people know that I swim fairly well.
I called for help which seemed to me like a fairly long time.
As the rip took me out further and further. I realised I was on my own. It was me in this ocean. I prayed and I prayed for clarity on what to do. I tried to swim back to where I had come from, but I just stayed in one spot and when I stopped swimming I just got taken further out.
I have never felt so alone in my life.
By this stage, I was far out, way beyond the rocks and reef in Bloubergstrand. I was heading out to the ocean. I remembered my parents’ voices as a child growing up in the ocean. Work with the sea. Don’t fight the sea. And I remembered, “The sea is my friend.” My mother would later tell me she would always say, “The sea is not your friend,” but for some reason I remember the opposite of this, and I believe it was a moment that shifted my decision-making.
…and I looked to the sea for answers.
Things began to flash through my mind as I began to get into some heavy surf. I suddenly realised how valuable my life is. How valuable I am. That I wasn’t ready to die. I thought about my parents and how lucky I am to still have them both alive and part of my life. I thought about my son and how much I loved him, and just wanted him to know how valuable he is and how much he means to me. To tell him to value himself and treasure the gifts in his life.
I just wanted to hug him and never let him go.
I thought about my relationships and about people that were taking away from me that did not value me or appreciate me, and that I was allowing this. I had sudden clarity of the things I would change in my life. Of projects I felt that were taking energy not creating energy. I realised how precious my time is and that I should not just give it to anyone. To value my contribution and purpose.
I thought about what I want for myself.
My personal dreams in my work and in my personal relationships. Of growing old with the man I love, my son and my stepdaughter. The special people in my life. I thought about what I wanted for myself and that I should not deny myself the very essence of my longings and yearnings but rather run to them and embrace them even if it meant changing my life now. That the only person that can give me value is myself. That kindness is often mistaken for weakness and that saying NO is important to getting to where I want to be for me.
To focus on this and not just what everyone else wants and needs from you.
I thought of the people that I loved and past hurts and realised that I had played a part in things and chose not to see the truth because I loved them. That I needed to face things and take accountability for what I want and make it happen. That it was up to me to change things for myself. That making other people happy was not necessarily making me happy and that I really need to face what I want and see it.
All the while the surf started to pound on me as I prayed to God to help me.
I let the sea take me out further to get out of the current. The shore by now was far. I tried again to call for help as a last attempt for someone to see me. I looked at these waves and looked at where they were going. Heading back into the bay. I thought the only way to move back is to ride them. And so, I began to ride the surf with no board, just my orange tow behind me.
Unbeknown to me, a man standing on the far side of the rocks saw my orange buoy.
He had waved to me to tell me had seen me. I did not know this at the time. He had watched me go out and watched my struggle with the ocean. He saw the tide take me. He watched me swim out further to get out of the rip. He then watched me as I began to ride the waves in. He called the National Sea Rescue who were stuck in traffic. He called the Lifesaving Club who had not yet opened. He tried to get a paddle to reach me. I did not know it but there were a lot of people out there trying to help me. He stayed on the rocks the entire time hoping I would see him so I would know I was not alone.
I could not see him. I was focused on surviving and my perspective was that I was alone in this.
As I was beginning to tire, and I prayed again for God to help me in ways I could not think or fathom. This was the moment when I could have let the sea take me. The moment when I felt like I couldn’t go on. When it felt all was lost. At that moment, a huge wave came. It lifted me from where I was and dumped me on a bank of seaweed. I let myself be held by the seaweed. The waves pounded over me. I just sat there a while and took deep breaths each time the wave broke.
After about the fourth wave I swam with the next wave into the bay.
The shore still looked very far to me, but I could spot a number of people on the banks. I wondered why everyone was standing there. I thought that’s strange that no one was in the water, they were all just standing there. I kept swimming and swimming. Eventually, about ten metres from the shore I stopped. It was then someone swam to me and asked if I was ok. I simply shook my head. This kind man told me to turn on to my back and hold my buoy and swam me in those last few metres.
As we drew closer to the shore, I said to him I could stand and would like to walk out of the water. He let go as I found my feet and slowly felt the ground beneath my feet. I could feel the emotion well up inside of me. All I wanted was a hug and a towel. I sat down on the edge of the bank. Everyone rushed to see if I was ok or needed medical assistance which I did not.
I was just tired and overwhelmed.
I had asked the police to call my partner and stood to walk to my car. A man rushed to me. Put a towel around me and just hugged me. This was the man that had watched my swim from beginning to end. This was Lieban. The man who saw. Him and his wife, Philma held me as I cried. The man who saw that it was no one’s fault. That I had not been alone. That there were others that heard me and that it could have happened to anyone in that moment in time. He watched as I strategised my way back to land. He saw the waves bring me in. He saw the struggle. He saw that I kept my head. He saw the swim.
He saw the victory.
I am so grateful that there was someone who saw. That was able to record that moment in time for me so that I never forget the importance of life, my life, our lives. That everything can change in an instant in a small moment when you stop observing even just for a split second. The two of them and their beautiful daughter drove me back to my car as my legs were shaky but happy to be on land.
I sat in my car and looked at the sea. The sea, my happy place. The sea, my teacher. I thanked God for my life and for helping me through it. I had thought I was alone, but I wasn’t. I thought it was impossible, but it wasn’t. I thought that it was lost but it wasn’t. I just needed to keep going because I had no idea what the sea would give me next. I thanked Him for this moment. The moment that woke me up forever. Never forget how much you matter.
This chapter of My Yellow Room is dedicated to Lieben and his family who watched and supported me through this swim, to Andre who swam with me the last 10 metres, to the ladies of the Tableview Police Service who were there when I got out the ocean, to the NSRI and Eden on the Bay Lifesavers who were waiting on the banks. Thank you for being there and making a difference in my life.
Thank you Get Published Team for everything you have done for me this year. I value you all very much.