Detached from the safety of the boat and my teammates, the more sleep deprived I became, the more vulnerable I felt in the water at night. Alone with my thoughts, my mind spun off in different directions.
During two separate evening shifts I sensed that something was staring at me from my right side. Not simply looking, but staring, almost bearing down on me. And it’s presence felt extremely close. Perhaps it was a lonesome seal or perhaps it was a curious shark. Or maybe it was my mind playing tricks on me, and the sleep deprivation taking hold of my thoughts. The reason didn’t matter. From that moment on I decided that I was too afraid to breathe to my right as I swam. It never occurred to me not to swim again in the dark. That was not an option. I simply just wasn’t going to dare look on my right. I felt that would make it all ok. If I didn’t look to my right, I was safe. Problem solved. Check.
Joe would keep watch over me at the back of the boat religiously. Standing motionless in a hooded jacket with his hands in his jacket pockets, his silhouette was eerily similar to a medieval watchman standing guard over the tower. With 15 minutes left in my shift, Joe would vanish into the cabin to organize himself for his swim shift, which was directly following mine.
Honestly this became the sweet spot of my evening hour-long shifts. I reflect on this now with some guilt. I love Joe, but I was delirious with glee knowing that my shift was almost over and I was about the re-enter the safe warm sanctuary of the boat. Get me out of here, was all I could think. Not so much on the person I love (sorry Joe) about to plunge into the icy darkness; the Deep.
With every breath I took - breathing to my left exclusively – I watched the boat. Sometimes I was so focused, I felt like a starving wild dog salivating over the first meal in days. Every time I looked at the cabin there was darkness. Until that moment and like clockwork with 5 minutes remaining, I would spot the blue blinky light beginning to pulse from Joe’s goggles. I can’t describe the immense joy and relief I felt to see that.
Minutes later, Joe would emerge at the back of the boat, his blue blinky light radiating through the darkness like a glorious halo. Before I knew it there was a splash in the water behind me. Joe was in and my shift was over.
A quick exchange ensued: “I love you!” “I love you” and I swam towards the stern as the swim platform was lowered. With massive waves sending the platform many feet over my head and then plunging it below the surface, I would reach for the platform in vain. My sanctuary would again vault above my reach and I would try again, stretching through the darkness. Before I knew it, I would flop on the platform and hear those sweet sweet words, “SWIMMER UP,” signaling to the captain that I was safely out of the water…for now.