The water was wavy and wild so my brother and I stood on the shore, shivering in our swimsuits, watching people stumble out of the Bay. A group of friends staggered out, giddy and victorious. One friendly looking man with bright red cheeks bodysurfed his way to shore before approaching us. “Going in?” he said, goggles dangling from one hand. We nodded. He wore a blue speedo, and an orange cap was tied under his chin like a bonnet. His wet chest hair was matted in the shape of a tornado. Upon learning we were siblings, he said he also swims with his sister, but due to a recent injury, she was taking a break. “In 1982 or ‘83, we swam into a dead body.” My brother and I looked at each other. He and I have swum into plastic bags, other swimmers, and sea lions, but never a dead body. The man added, “At least I think he was dead.” He thought he was dead? I kept shivering. “It was a guy with Parkinson’s. He tied his hands together and jumped off the dock. Suicide by water,” he said, “My therapist says not to say committed suicide.”
Earlier that morning, in the car listening to Eurythmics, Daniel and I had been talking about death, a subject that comes up more often now that one of us has cancer. I told him I’m not scared of dying, only scared of my children losing their mom too soon. He said, “Same. I figure I’ve got to live at least ten more years.”
We tread water facing the Golden Gate Bridge, and talked about the body that may or may not have been dead. I said, “If that happened to me, if I didn’t know for certain that the guy was dead, it would haunt me my whole life.” “Of course it would,” he said, before dunking below the surface. I didn’t say that in December of 1993, I ran over something on a rural Texas highway in the middle of the night. Like a speedbump but fleshier. A friend from high school was in the passenger seat. He had just finished sobbing along to the Les Mis cassette tape. When I think of that night, I tell myself it was a large bag of trash. Or, at the worst, a sheep.
After our swim I went to the hospital for a pre-op appointment. In a couple of weeks, I will have breast reconstruction surgery. Fat will be sucked out of my thighs to pad the silicon implants. I asked the surgeon if he would use any foreign fat if needed, “Like from a pig?” He cocked his head, stared at me, and finally said quietly, “No.”
Many things keep me up at night. My mother’s increasing fragility, my upcoming surgery, what to do with cauliflower. Tonight, I will think of the man on the beach, and how it felt to swim away.
Ann Davis says
Thank you for the story. If you lived in the South you’d put cheese on cauliflower. And probably every other veg. With love and prayers, Ann
Moses Corrette says
My husband has Parkinson’s. I am now several years older than my dad was when he died. Like you, I am not afraid of dying. But there is still so much to do, so much to live for. I need to visit my son and his wife in their new house 1000 miles from us, and I will. Your children are lucky to live with your love and your strength.
Mark S. says
I really wanted to know more about the friend with the Les Miz tape. What’s *that* story all about?!??
Rebecca Handler says
What happens on Highway 10, stays on Highway 10.
Love your writing Rebecca.
Sorry, I know that is a pedestrian ‘review.’
But it is true.
Keep your stories coming. Please.
Rebecca Handler says
That’s my favorite kind of review. Straight to the point with no spoilers. Thank you Jeanne!