I could see land on both sides of me, but either way was too far for me to swim. My arms were tired, my throat was hoarse from shouting and I didn’t have a life jacket. It turns out that the reason they put those orange padded things on the boat is so that you’ll wear them and not end up drinking sea water and having your life flash before your eyes like me. Who knew? I always thought of them as a fashion inconvenience made for the kind of people who wear Segway helmets. I’d usually shuck the orange eyesore as soon as I got past the view of the person who’d rented me the boat. I didn’t know how much longer I could tread water. I was sure I’d swallowed at least of pint of ocean spray. I wasn’t really sure if I could even see the bottom and I didn’t have a shirt or pants to inflate like I’d learned to do in Boy Scouts. I had nothing except my swim trunks and I can’t think of one way that swim trunks are going to save anyone’s life. I knew I couldn’t stay above the surface much longer.The good news was that the water was as turquoise blue as any I’ve seen on the planet, and if you’ve got to go, at least it’s good to be some place beautiful when you do. Who was I kidding? Everyone knows that drowning is one of the worst ways to die. Everything had been so much better an hour earlier.

I was staying at an adult all-inclusive resort in Mexico with my soon-to-be-ex girlfriend and a few friends that worked with me. The weather was perfect, there was a good looking crowd at the pool and of course I was fighting with my STBXGF. We had been breaking up for quite some time, but we always said we’d wait until our trip was over to split up. The problem was, there was always another vacation coming up. My friends were entertaining her and  themselves when I first spied Norma. She was a drop dead gorgeous blonde with a  cool short hair cut that few women could pull off. She was tan and looked not only beautiful, but fun, if such a thing is possible. My wandering thoughts were quickly halted when I noticed glaring eyes to my left and my travel partner mouthing the words “stay away from her”! I had no intentions of trying to get together with another girl on this trip. I just had barely glanced over, but Norma was dazzling and my partner was already way ahead of me. Even if we didn’t get along, she knew me and she knew the kind of girls that attracted me.

Stay away I did, until I went to the bar to get a round of drinks and there she was, magically next to me. I said hi, made a little small talk and was slowly backing away, but it was too late. Suddenly there was a hail storm of sweet icy liquid on my hair and back. I wasn’t the only casualty, Norma had been hit too. I looked behind me and holding an empty glass was the culprit. A once full margarita was now all over Norma and I. It’s one thing to throw a drink on someone you know, another thing entirely on a perfect stranger. If I was the girl, I would have gotten out of the pool and slapped my STBXGF I tried to apologize to my new friend even though I hadn’t really been responsible, but Norma held her temper. The one thing that my STBXGF hadn’t counted on was that if you attack two people who don’t know each other, not only are they going to be upset with you, but you just brought them closer together by giving them a shared experience. We were both victims of a terrorist cocktail attack and the ice in the pool proved it.

I skulked to my own little corner of the pool after the attack and as I wandered around the resort, I had an idea. Why didn’t I invite my new friend on a sailing adventure? I was no expert, but I had been out earlier on one of the little sail boats provided by the club and I had managed to make it back by luck or something I may have read in a Jules Verne book. Worst case scenario, if we drifted too far, the resort staff would come out and get us eventually. They didn’t want to lose a perfectly good boat. Even if I was terrible at sailing, it’s not like we were going to die or anything. Norma was traveling with her friend Dal and they accepted my invitation. My STBXGF was out on a catamaran with our friends and they were just pulling ashore. We hid behind the building until they passed our line of vision and we hurried to the beach,grabbed the boat they had just left, and set sail. Ha! We’d show her! “If you’re gonna throw a drink on us, we’re just gonna be BFFs and go sailing together. That’ll teach you”, was our thinking.  Norma seemed confident, but slightly nervous. It turns out she didn’t know how to swim and was a afraid of the water. I assured her that everything would be fine. The boat came with life vests!

The wind was perfect and I felt like a Jimmy Buffet piloting our boat towards islands unknown. Norma had a fear of sharks too I soon discovered as she was scanning the horizon for dorsal fins. I assured her that it was very unlikely any of the creatures from Shark Week had make their way to these waters and that she would be fine. Dal had never piloted a catamaran either so I was the expert in spite of the fact that I was pretty much faking it. After 20 minutes of sailing, we came to a breathtakingly aqua blue patch of water. It was so picturesque that I suggested we jump in. Norma was nervous, but I reminded her that she did have a life vest and would be fine. Dal preferred to just lie on the deck and hang out while we got in the water. I had the girls’ trust and that was something special. A woman who is afraid of drowning and being eaten by sharks, getting in the water half a mile from shore with someone she barely knows? That is trust. It was a beautiful moment: the cool water lapping on our faces, the warm sun filling us with laziness. That’s when the boat took off.

In all the excitement, I had not thought of dropping the sail. The boat was off to Never Land with its’ single shocked passenger and I was in was rolling in the waves with a girl that couldn’t swim and no life jacket to call my own. I guess we could have shared if Norma didn’t mind drowning, but I needed to catch up with that boat before it got any further away and save Dal. I asked Norma if she would be okay if I left her. She seemed calmer than me weirdly enough.  I swam as fast as I could, shouting for Dal to lower the sail. She had no idea what I was sputtering or was too far away to hear. I tried to imagine myself as Michael Phelps as I stroked the water with my flailing arms. The faster I swam, the further away the boat seemed to be. As I tried to get closer, I realized that it was outdistancing me by 4 or 5 times. I could barely make out Dal’s confused face, probably wondering if I was going to drown her best friend and leave her drifting out to sea.

My arms were aching and I couldn’t swim anymore. It was useless. The boat was too far gone and as I looked around I realized there was nothing near me. No buoys, no islands, no flotsam or jetsam, and Norma was a dot in the distance. I’ve been exceedingly lucky in life. There have been lots of scary experiences that I probably shouldn’t have lived through, but at the last minute my guardian angel came through. There was very little chance of divine intervention at this point though, that was certain. No one knew where we were. Our best friends were getting drunk at a pool. My plan was to just float as long as I could. Take deep breaths and try to stay buoyant. That’s what I’d learned in Boy Scouts. Unfortunately, when you’re out of breath and panting, that calm floating concept just doesn’t work. I thought to myself, “This is it. You’ve had a good run. You were stupid for not wearing your life jacket. Maybe when they pull your lifeless body out of the water, your friends will start wearing their life jackets for a couple of months…. until the memory of what happened to you fades from their memories”.

I tried to calm down, relax, breathe, stay afloat. There was an island in the distance that a good swimmer might be able to navigate, but who was I kidding? A good swimmer I’m not. I repeated a mantra in my mind: ” Fill your lungs with air, keep your nose above water, don’t panic, don’t expend too much energy. Maybe someone will realize you’re  missing and send out a search party. You’ll  undoubtedly be blamed for going off with the girl you STBXGF told you to stay away from.” Now that’s a horrible way to go. Your soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend tells you not to do something, you do it anyway, and then you die because you didn’t listen. She ends up being right and you’re forever the bad decision maker and the cheater… She gets the last word and everyone at the funeral is talking about what a big jerk I was because I sneaked off with two girls and deserted the friends I’d come with. That’s not the  glamorous ending I was hoping for. Maybe a shark attack would be better. Shark news always trumps whatever the person did, because no one to deserve to be eaten regardless of their behavior .  I  submerged myself and tried to touch the bottom. I had hoped for a little wall of coral or a piece of shipwreck if I was lucky, but there was nothing below except a white sandy bottom that could have been a mile away for all I knew. Distances are further than they appear. I wasn’t going to be able to swim much longer. My arms felt like barbells.

Suddenly, I heard a motor. Had my guardian angel followed me to Mexico? I looked behind me and a guy on a jet ski pulled up alongside me and asked me if I needed help. No, of course not. I like floating in the middle of nowhere with my face half submerged underwater. I didn’t say that really or even think it. I was amazed by the miracle that had just taken place and was grateful beyond words that I would get to live to see another day of vacation. From now on I would be a better person and start wearing life vests and give to the poor and homeless. Yeah…and I was gonna be President someday too! Near death experiences have a way of making us think about life in a different way for a while until we get complacent again.The jet ski man hoisted me halfway onto the ski and asked me where he could take me.  I told him that I needed to go after the boat and save my friend who couldn’t swim. I was so hoarse I could barely talk, but as luck would have it, the boat had slowed it’s course and was still visible. A runaway catamaran is no match for a jet ski and we quickly caught up, I told Dal how to lower the sail and I was back on board in moments. I thanked the man who helped me and told him that he’d saved my life. He acted like he saved people every day. My arms were heavy, but I was able to navigate the boat back to Norma. She was floating in the waves like a little blonde fishing-bobber. She was much calmer than any of us and never said one mean thing to me the whole way back.

A near death experience brings everyone involved closer and we still talk about the day I almost drowned both of us and laugh about it. I like to tell her that I saved her life, but everyone has a different way of looking at the facts. I like to be the hero in my stories.