Everything was silent except for the crashing of the waves. The smell of salt cut through the sharp freezing air. Amelia longed to look away, but she wouldn’t let herself. Every wave caused her heart to skip a beat. She’d seen psychiatrists, she’d talked to other people like her, nothing helped like sitting here and staring at her greatest fear.
Someone ran past Amelia, bundled up from head to toe. “Aren’t you cold, ma’am?” he asked. She was dressed in jeans and a thin, long-sleeved shirt. She shook her head. Of course she was cold, but the iciness kept her focused and a little less afraid. The jogger shrugged and kept moving. Amelia went back to staring at the water. She was happy to be alone again.
Amelia used to love the water. She remembered when she was younger, her father had to hold her back at the beach so she wouldn’t run off into the ocean without him. She was a really good swimmer, and had begged her parents to sign her up for a travel swim team. She had lived for the water. That was why she had decided to go on the sailing program for a semester when she was in college.
The program had sounded absolutely incredible. They had sailed in the Pacific, out on the water for weeks at a time. Amelia was planning on being a marine biologist, so the things she got to study were incredible. She had thought it would be the best few months of her life. That was when the storm came.
They’d sailed through storms before, but this was like nothing they’d ever seen. Later they told them it was a tropical storm that came out of the blue, but Amelia didn’t care what it was by then. The sails on the ship were wrecked within minutes, which of course they’d prepared for. It was all hands on deck and they had almost stabilized the ship when they heard a crack. The wind was so strong it broke the mast. It fell, rocking the entire ship. Amelia’s best friend, Brooke, who she’d known since kindergarten, flew over the edge. That was when it all went wrong.
There had been a protocol to follow if someone fell overboard, but Amelia had completely lost her head. She screamed and dove over the side, nothing in her mind but saving her best friend in the entire world. The sea was frothing, and it was all she could do to keep her head above the water. Finally, she spotted Brooke. She cut through the water towards her, but Brooke’s head went under. Amelia dived under, grabbing for Brooke’s hand, arm, anything. Finally she found her. Gasping for air, Amelia struggled to hold her friend. She screamed for help, but she could feel her grip slipping, as well as her consciousness. It was too cold in the water, and she couldn’t hold Brooke, who was clearly losing consciousness as well.
Amelia didn’t remember the Coast Guard coming, or them lifting her on board. She didn’t remember the scared faces of her crewmates, or the way they had to force the water out of her friend. All she remembered was waking up in a hospital bed.
Amelia didn’t realize she was crying until her tears froze on her face. She was angry at herself for thinking about that. It had happened, it was over. She was supposed to forget it, let it go. Both of them survived and made it home safely. However, there was one moment where the words “critical condition” reached Amelia’s ears. She’d always been afraid of losing people she cares about, so even though it shouldn't have scared her so badly, even though Brooke survived, Amelia could never go in the water again.
That was three years ago.
It was after a little over a year she realized she needed to do something. So for the past two years she’d been torturing herself, coming to the beach once a month and staring at the endless, evil sea. The worst times were the summer. All of the happy families and children playing in the water. She wanted to grab them, to scream at them to run as far as they could from there. But she didn’t, because no one else had been through what she had.
Winter was good. There was no one here, so Amelia could afford to just sit and think and not be bothered by anyone. Wait. Someone was there, on the edge of the ocean. Amelia closed her eyes. Probably one of those crazy winter swimmers, trying to seem tough. Amelia wished she was as tough as that person was trying to be.
When Amelia opened her eyes, the person was gone, having jumped into the water. She looked for them, equal parts curious and petrified, but the person didn’t surface. They were simply gone. That’s when she saw them. They were bobbing too far out, stuck in what looked like a riptide. Amelia felt like she was hyperventilating. No one else was on the beach. No one else was there, watching the person being grabbed by the ocean.
In her head, Amelia saw her friend going over the edge of the boat that fateful day. She ran towards the ocean, but at the edge stopped. In her mind, she felt the ship she’d spent that semester on rocking. She steeled herself, telling herself to forget the past. She leaped into the ocean.
Amelia still had the great form she used to have, even though she hadn’t swum for three years. She swam as fast as she could towards the swimmer. At last, after what felt like too long, she found the swimmer, fighting the riptide. Amelia remembered the cold feeling of water pushing her under during that storm, but refused to be distracted. The lifeguard training she had to take before the semester on the water kicked in. She grabbed the person around the waist. It was a man, around her age. She remembered not to fight the tide, but to ride it until she could move out of it. Gently she guided the swimmer out of the tide. Thank goodness he was still able to swim on his own, or she would’ve had a much harder time. After that it was a matter of getting to shore safely.
It felt like hours, but finally they washed up on the shore. The man coughed horribly while Amelia shivered, but not from the cold. She could see the hospital lights, hear the worried whispers of doctors and crewmates all around her. The man’s voice snapped her out of the flashback. It was still hoarse from the coughing.
“Thank you,” he said. “I was an idiot to think I could swim out there.”
Amelia wrapped her arms around herself and scooched away from the water. “Yeah,” was all she could answer.
“Where did you learn to swim like that?”
“I took a class.”
The man looked impressed. “You could really be on a swim team, you know. Like one of those crazy ones that goes in the ocean and stuff.”
Her voice seized up. Once again she was grasped by the memory of that day. She felt the waves rocking her, the chaos and fear as she searched for someone she knew she might not find. The ocean had almost taken her best friend away from her. Was this man insane? The ocean should be stayed away from.
Her fear must’ve shone on her face, because the man asked, “Are you okay?” He sounded genuinely concerned for her.
A cold wave lapped up and gently went over her feet, washing away the sand. As the sand flowed away, Amelia felt something inside her flow away too. It felt good to talk to someone. It took her mind off of wanting to run as far as possible away from the water a few feet away from her. Amelia started simple, just saying she was scared of the water, but soon she found herself telling him everything that happened. Maybe it was being so close to the water again, or having saved the man, but for some reason Amelia felt less afraid. The man sat silently, listening to her talk. By the time she’d finished, the tide had come in, completely surrounding the two of them in the shallows. Surprisingly, Amelia wasn’t even scared. In fact, she felt stronger, like something inside her had healed as she told this stranger her story in ocean tide.