The Day That I Almost Died, I Couldn’t Stop Laughing

The first time I visited my father’s hometown we were greeted with torrential rains. Pernambuco is very dry and rain, to most believers in the region, is a sign from God. Everybody in the area gathered pots and pans and placed them on top of roofs, outside their houses and everywhere where the water could funnel and flow into buckets. It was a joyful event. Everybody was laughing and smiling. Hugging one another and telling us how happy they were that we brought rain. I was just a kid, but in my mind, I believed it to be the truth. Where we came from it rained all the time — maybe my parents did indeed hide some of that rain in their luggage and carry it across the country, so we could have a dazzling entrance. At that time that made sense to me because I believed that my father had some unique powers over water. Nothing crazy, nothing like Poseidon or Iemanjá. Just a mild supernatural power over this particular element. Some sort of blessed luck or unnatural advantage.

The belief in those powers came years before that day. The day that I almost died. The day that I almost got lost in the ocean while still a baby. When I was two years old, my parents decided to spend the Sunday in a beach in Bertioga, nothing fancy, just a place two hours away from my town, São Paulo. I have no recollection of this story, this was told to me by my mother and my father. They got there in the morning, left their stuff in the car, and went to the shore. This particular beach has, a couple of kilometers away, a little island, that if the tide is shallow, you can easily walk from the sand all the way to this small piece of land with almost no effort. Some of the other people on the beach were getting ready to cross the sea, and they invited my parents to join them. My mom had some reservations, even before moms forums were populating the not-yet-created internet she knew that you shouldn’t cross the ocean with a baby in an inflatable donut made of plastic. The fun people coated in sunscreen were not convinced of the safety hazards and told my parents that it was all good. “Everybody does it all the time, don’t worry,” they said in unison. My dad wanted the adventure. He grew up in arid land, and the ocean was always fascinating to him. He had learned how to swim and loved to fish. The sea was a personal battle that he would fight at any opportunity, it was a way of showing the world that he had a good life. That he managed to leave that dry and poor place and had a good job, a college degree and a family, all in the big city located two hours away from the ocean. The sea didn’t scare him, the sea was just a reminder of all that he had accomplished.

My dad told my mom that all would be fine. He knew what he was doing. They put me on my little donut shaped floater, with two holes in the middle for my short legs so I could touch the water. It was my favorite thing according to them, I couldn’t stop smiling and laughing once they dropped me in the water. It was like they had told me a thousand jokes all at once and I got them all simultaneously. So off they went, with a laughing baby, a woman who didn’t know how to swim, and a man with a personal rivalry with the entire ocean. They crossed to the island with no problem. There was a stretch of the beach full of rocks that served as their guide. A few fishermen were setting their rods, while my parents crossed to the island, waiting for the tide. The journey took less than thirty minutes, and it was worth it. The island was pleasant, and they decided to stay for a bit. They found a secluded part and enjoyed the sun, talked and played with me until a couple of hours had gone by. How many they didn’t know exactly, but they could still hear the sound of people on the other side.

After some time had gone by, they decided to check on the other people. When they got there, the stragglers on the island were setting up their camping tents and preparing for an overnight stay. My dad went to question them about the tide, and the pathway, and how they could get back since they didn’t have anything for the night and his car was in a parking lot, and he didn’t want a ticket. A surfer explained to him that if they left right now, the tide would not be so high, and they would be able to cross, but they should hurry.

My parents grabbed me and started to make their way back. When they got to the water, it was already above their knees. They thought that it would slow them down but not that much. Almost halfway into the ocean, the water was already above their waist, and it was too late to turn back. They struggled through, but every move was so slow that if you added the current going in the opposite direction taking them back slowly, you wouldn’t know if they were really moving. After some time spent fighting against the push and pull, the water was already up to their necks, and my mom was beginning to drown. My dad quickly came up with a solution. He would shove me as far as he could, grab my mom by the arm, and carry her until they could meet me again. In his mind this solution was easy, but the current wouldn’t let me get far away, and my mom would pull him down so he couldn’t properly swim. She would weigh him down, and he would lose his breath and his strength, and it was harder and harder to push me again. This plan was impossible, and he couldn’t do it anymore, or they would both drown. He had to think fast. He had to make a decision. Should he swim with me and let my mom there or let me go and help my mother? In a split second, he decided to let me go, I had my inflatable so he could always come back for me, find the coastal guard or something, but right now he had to save his wife. I can’t imagine how hard that decision must have been — they had been trying to have a kid for six years and there I was floating towards the endlessness horizon, adrift.

My dad grabbed my mom and brought her all the way back to a cluster of rocks that still had a section glancing out of the water, he settled my mom there. The stones had no smooth surfaces, and my mom had no shoes. It was all jagged edges and sharp extremities. My dad was already gone to get me, and my mother stayed there trying not to move but just trying to maintain her balance caused several cuts in her feet and hands. Every new wound would bleed and end up mixing with the saltwater, and that was her entertainment while waiting.

My dad after leaving my mom there looked around trying to find me. Apparently, I was still parallel to the rock wall but slowing moving out into the open ocean. He then swam non-stop trying to get to me. He saw those fishermen and start to scream for them to pick up the kid. One of them tried to get into the water, but it was too deep so he came back saying that he couldn’t do it. My dad kept swimming, and I kept getting farther and farther away. After a long time, he managed to slowly close the gap until, completely exhausted and full of cramps, he got to my floaty. He held onto it for a bit and spent a couple of minutes recovering. He had to swim back, but at that moment he needed to replenish his energies. So we floated for a while, just the two of us. And during all this time, I couldn’t stop laughing. I would move my feet and clap my hands like this was the funniest thing to ever happen to someone. When he told me this story, he said that this was the thing that gave him strength. And he looked at me and laughed. So there we were, just the two of us, in the middle of the ocean laughing. He didn’t know if he was going to be able to get back, but at that moment even the immediate future was too far away. We had the now, that little moment where we were both laughing at entirely different things, him at the horrible situation that he was in and me at nothing in particular, just laughing in general. That was our moment. He had his wife somewhat safe and had me in his arms, right now he was winning.

He got his energy back and started pushing me. Due to the current, he had to shove me, swim until I was close and push me again. Sometimes he would hold me and just use his legs when he was too tired. This took him a long time, but he managed to get to the shore. He asked some random person, that looked amicable, to take care of me and went back for my mom. At this point, my mom had several cuts on her feet and was trying to hold up the best that she could. When my dad got there, she didn’t say anything, she saw my dad bringing me to the beach and didn’t really care about her bleeding cuts on her hands or feet. They got back to the beach and grabbed me, I was exhausted but still in high spirits, smiling. They drove to a hospital to attend to my mom’s wounds and decided that they would never go back to that beach. Until this day, I just messaged my mom about it, they never went back.

This was the story that made me believe in my dad’s mild superpowers over water and made me think that he had something to do with that rain five years after this incident. After we got back from that day at the beach, he enrolled me in swimming classes. I took them for twelve years and end up competing in my school’s team. The water became a symbol of pride between us, and I received my badge when I was fourteen on a trip with some friends. We were four boys in a little boat joking around when my friend fell into the river, and within seconds, he disappeared beneath the water. Without hesitation, I jumped in to rescue him. I remember swimming down and grabbing his nearly unconscious body. I swam to land with him in my arms, and when he got there, he started to vomit water, he vomited for a long time, and we took him back to the cottage. Until this day, every time that I see him, he mentions that day. How I saved his life, and every time he says that I remember the day that my dad saved mine. Somehow I feel that some of those powers are now with me, they were transferred at that moment that we were both floating and laughing at how the ocean ain’t got nothin’ on us.

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