A family man accepts his impending death by drowning only to be given the means to really begin living.
There is a tiny little fishing village somewhere in Mexico which will remain unnamed at this point to protect and keep secret the locals who were witnesses to Larry’s terrifying embrace with Death. They never speak of it and think of him as one of their own—this tall, pale, gray-haired gringo who had become such an important part of their lives over time.
Larry had come to Mexico on vacation from Canada a few years ago and discovered an off-the-beaten-track village in his quest to locate something that he couldn’t quite define but knew he was missing. Maybe it was solitude or perhaps an exotic new circle of friends? Or could it be finding a simpler life for himself or possibly just the opposite that he needed a challenge – was it boredom? So many conflicts in searching for that one remaining answer, like being on a treasure hunt but the last item to find was written in invisible ink. All Larry knew was that it was an annoyingly elusive thing and likely staring him in the face. But life in general had removed any clarity in his thinking processes…it was a “too many trees, can’t see the forest” scenario.
In his six decades of life on Earth, he had a completed a full resume of accomplishments, and had a long list of close friends and a clan of family that included two sons and a daughter of whom he was proud, and grandchildren who lit up his world. He was hard-working, loyal, and dedicated to doing the right thing. Larry had been divorced for many years and often wondered if a significant partner was what might be missing; however, he was rarely lonely. So he kept slogging along, pondering his dilemma and keeping pre-occupied with working with his hands. But there were too many times he found himself standing idly, staring at the wall and dreaming of being in a different place.
So he had set out on his quest and now he finally found that different and perfect place. He had been coming back to this village in Mexico more frequently and for longer and longer periods of time since his first discovery. Something kept pulling him back there and he knew that he had to be getting closer to the answer.
It was a typical, flawless morning in the unnamed village in Mexico and Larry decided the weather was perfect for a swim in the ocean. The tide was high and he envisioned a lazy soak in the balmy water with plans of swimming to the mouth of the river that fed into the ocean. The bay where the river met the ocean was peaceful, surrounded by trees, with not a soul in sight.
Larry was, by personal definition, not a great swimmer but these waters never threatened his shortage of skill and he was a strong man, well over six feet tall and muscular from working outdoors for the majority of his life. So having a swim that day was relaxing. Tropical fish swirled about his legs as he kicked lazily, long arms stroking effortlessly through the translucent green water as he steered himself toward the mouth of the river. The breeze picked up as he drew nearer to the bay and waves began bobbing him up and down on the surface. There seemed to be a bit more effort required to gain any headway and as he glanced over at the beach, he saw his good friend’s wife Isabel in the distance setting up her tables on the sand, getting ready for the few tourists that stumbled across the village. Why was she still in the same spot every time he looked? He should have been well ahead of her now and nearly at the river where he could just stand up and walk to shore!
The breeze was now a roar in his ears and his heart pounded furiously with a combination of exertion and early stage fear. He dropped his feet, expecting to feel the sand and there was nothing – nothing but more water. Panic was now setting in as Larry realized he was being swept out into the ocean by the fast-running waters of the incoming river. And he was being pushed farther and farther away from the beach. He thought about calling to Isabel for help but his pride kept him fighting his way toward the bay. He was the big, tough gringo, wasn’t he? These seasoned fishermen of the village would laugh at his cowardice if one of their wives had to drag him to safety!
Larry was beginning to take on more water as he gasped for breath and grappled with his feet, trying to find solid terrain or at least some semblance of shifting sands. He had now dropped below the now-choppy waves a few times and on this descent, his arms like lead and his breath gone, he thought to himself that maybe this was the answer. He was supposed to die where he had been the happiest, becoming a part of the eco-system and forever the village legend of the tall, pale, gray-haired gringo who had drowned in their fishing waters.
Dying ultimately seemed like the best option and as Larry dropped farther below the waves, closing his eyes and giving into his exhaustion, he embraced the acceptance of his death. Visions of his friends and his family moved slowly through his thoughts as the world beneath the waves became silent. A sudden single word shot through his dying dream state like a bolt of electricity. FAILURE!! Larry’s eyes flew open.
With no breath left and his muscles screaming in burning, liquid pain, he began wildly dog-paddling his way to the surface. As his head cleared the surface, he forced his lungs to take on one last load of oxygen. “AYUDARME! AYUDARME! Help! Help!” he shouted.
He spotted his good friend Sergio, running into the waves and gesturing wildly to Larry to swim back, away from the entrance to the bay. Isabel had spotted him sinking below the cresting waves and called to her husband for help. As Sergio shouted encouragement, Larry found somewhere deep within him enough endurance to make desperate, choppy strokes and feeble kicks toward the beach. It seemed like hours before he finally felt the blessed abrasiveness of sand trickle up around his ankles and then his feet found bottom.
Staggering ashore, supported by his rescuers Sergio and Isabel, Larry slowly recaptured his precious breath – oh, sweet oxygen, and tried to regain control of his burning, shaking muscles. His pride seemed like a useless, ridiculously manly thing in the face of death now. He could have, but hadn’t, called for help earlier when he should have, and if Isabel had not looked up at exactly the right moment, Larry would have been a tragedy washed up on the shore of his adopted family’s village. Knowing their grief may have been worse for him than experiencing his own silent, watery death.
When Larry finally raised his head, the clarity he had been missing was there. It was as if a gauzy curtain had been clouding his sight but now was lifted. He had been in the right place and drowning in that place had been the right time. He recalled the voice he had heard accusing him of being a failure, and the search was finally over. So many decades of doing what he thought was the right thing and afraid to color outside the lines at the risk of accomplishing nothing but failure. Fear of that failure had kept him from doing and being all that he could be — a common, humanistic flaw but not one that had ever crossed his mind for himself. It was now all about change and wildly coloring bold strokes outside those safe lines – lines that would flex and move at his command
Last time we looked, Larry was surging ahead with his life, loving his family, unabashedly boasting pride in his grandchildren and finally retiring from a job he’d had so long that it had seemed like cutting an umbilical cord to leave. But he had done it.
And somewhere in Mexico, in an unnamed secret village, a tall, not-so-pale anymore but still gray-haired gringo, swings a hammer as he helps rebuild a school in need of some work. No rush to get back home and tend to his expected duties. This is where he was supposed to be — right here, right now. Sometimes it takes death to realize life.
“Throw a Drowning Man a Brick” futureofthebook.org
“Drowning Man” janoosh.deviantart.com
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