It was one of those beach evenings that trick you into believing you could have a successful career in postcards.
The sun was setting over the unusually choppy waters of the Gulf. The sky morphed dramatically from orange to pink, then purple and red. Eagle rays occasionally leapt out of the water, not gracefully, but like baby birds flapping hairless wings.
My friends and I were enjoying the sunset on the sand together. The men took turns paddle boarding in the chop and the ladies stood around chatting, keeping one eye on the kids playing in the water. I was standing wishing I had worn my suit so I could paddle board too.
We watched as the sun fell off the end of the earth and looked for the mythical green flash that is supposed to appear just after the sun sets, which, I tell everyone is only a sign that you burned your eyeballs on the sun.
When nature’s finale was over and it was getting darker, the mothers start to tell their kids to get ready to go home. The kids are young: three, four and five, some of them are decent swimmers. Some are not.
One boy was in the water farther down the beach, a good swimmer but he had drifted out of our easy reach. Our vision was getting smaller from the dark. His mother, with her vigilant eye, started to get antsy.
“Will you go get him,” she asks one of the men since she is holding her newborn. She says it casually, but the women can sense a hint of urgency in her voice. The energy perks up. Is one of our cubs in trouble? My skin prickles and I look for her son.
Just then a bigger than usual wave crashes him under, gone.
His mother screams.
I run as fast as I can and dive fully clothed into the sea.
I come up for air swimming hard, looking for the boy. I see him ahead about 50 yards down the beach…happily on the shore being hugged by his mother.
You see, I had just flung myself into the ocean, nowhere near the endangered child.
I was as far off from my target as Rep. Todd Akin would be working at a Rape Crisis Hotline. (AKIN: “Can you say that again? I’m having a hard time discerning if this was legitimate through your tears.”) The Coast Guard could have been called, flown from Tampa and had a snack before I would have ever reached him. It was like hearing a fire alarm and dousing the closest object with water. Or hearing a victim scream “Stop thief!” and tripping the first person seen.
What was I thinking? I know that it is much slower to swim to a drowning victim than to run to them. My memory of the moments from when I saw him disappear until I was in the water is blank. Was I just trying to make a grand showing to look heroic? Did I believe I had magical go-go gadget arms that would scoop him from the sea? Is it because I have no depth perception?
Or, what I fear is that I really just wanted to have an excuse to paddleboard fully clothed. Since I’m already wet…
In March 2011, I was given the amazing opportunity to write a weekly parenting column, with my friend Katherine Shirer, for Dunedin Patch. It has been a fantastic 19 months where at one point Pen Name Jane was carried in two states and 13 cities.
Since 2011, the Florida Patch sites have grown and found a solid audience. With the changes, Pen Name Jane’s quirky parenting complaints seem off topic when mixed with Patch’s quality local news.
Jane ran enthusiastically fully-clothed into the water, but she failed to focus on her target audience before she jumped in. Maybe she thought that after writing one choppy undergraduate thesis, she could pull David Sedaris quality storytelling out of her gut and then an audience would flock to her like a go-go gadget magnet. Or maybe her bad depth perception made objects appear closer than they were.
In any event Patch.com and Pen Name Jane are amicably parting ways. And this will Pen Name Jane’s last sentence.
Or maybe this (fragmented) one.
Ok, this one.
Patch.com will keep its special place in my heart for having the faith to publish my first works and I will continue to contribute more targeted local stories for Dunedin Patch like Meet the Moms and Pops.
And thank you to every reader who ever read one word, and shared them with their friends and left their thoughts in a comment. You are appreciated.
And don’t worry about Jane. She is, I believe, paddle boarding, fully clothed and soaking wet, into the sunset.