Gray clouds loom in the distance that evening as we drive over the bay bridge. Sail boats and freighters are common sights in the bay, but there aren’t any to be seen; Sundays of three-day weekends are always quiet.
Dad looks out over the eerily still water, momentarily transfixed. He breaks the silence with a peculiarly dark question, jarring in contrast to the lighthearted day we had just spent together as a family. “What would you do if you were out there for a long open-water swim, with your brother or best friend, and they said that they couldn’t make it any further?”
After a brief pause, he elaborates. “Think about it. There’s nothing and no one around for miles. Do you try to save him, drowning together in the process? Or do you continue on without him?”
It was a dark hypothetical. I appreciate outlandish questions, and as a chronic worrier, my mind naturally tends toward the dark (hope for the best, prepare for the worst — as they say), but this was tragic. I didn’t want to think about it, but I did.“I’d never be on a swim like that. If I were… I don’t know.”
I consider it as realistically as I could. “He really can’t go on? What if we just turn on our backs and float awhile, to rest?”
“No, at this point, he’s done. You think he wants to die? Of course not, but he’s sinking.”
I sigh. “I don’t know what I’d do, but I know that either way, I’d be dead. I’d drown trying to save him, and if I had to leave him behind or watch him drown, I’d drown in my panic and grief.”
Dad continues to build the scene, as if my response didn’t register.“Even if I gave you a measly 10 lb weight, that’d affect your ability to swim a long distance. An entire person. There’s no way you could make it.”
“Yeah…I don’t know.”
Moments of sad, contemplative silence pass.
“This happened to me, many years ago. Think about being on a plane that’s going down, think about everything — all the thoughts, memories, and concerns that would suddenly flood your mind. All those things? That’s what I thought about in that excruciating moment.”
I sit in stunned silence, looking out over the water.
With a quiet anguish, he ends the conversation. “I don’t burden you with stories like this, but one day, maybe five or ten years from now, I’ll share.”