You see, my mother grew up on the beaches of southern Florida. She once told me that every morning for almost two years straight she would wake up early in the morning and take an early morning swim in the waters of the gulf.
On the morning of her doctors appointment which would reveal that she had cancer, she went swimming in the gulf.
I remember when she came in she said her stomach was burning her to my father. She said, “You know Jack, the water was at the most perfect temperature, but I just couldn’t enjoy it. My stomach felt as if it were lit on fire.”
After a scheduled a doctor’s appointment for later that day, she came in the house pale.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
There was no response and mother just kept walking in a straight line up to her room.
Later that night my father came into my room when I went to bed that night.
“David, are you up?” he asked.
“Yeah. Dad, what is going on with Mom?” I responded.
“Well, that’s what I was coming in here to explain to you. I don’t want to try to keep it from you any longer. Your mother has a dangerous type of cancer.”
I just stared at him, this time into his big blue eyes, a tiny bit of fight taken out of them too.
There was no more swimming in the gulf for my mother, per the doctor’s orders. But, it wouldn’t matter if the doctor had ordered it or not, as in a mere week, she could barely make it out of bed.
So, when my mother said she wanted to go swimming, I knew the importance of that moment when she stepped her toes in that aqua blue water with that sea of sand dancing around her toes.
“Let’s go right now,” I told her.
So we both went to go get out swimsuits on. I chose the more plain blue swim trunks but my mother decided to put on her favorite bikini from college. When I had asked her why she decided to wear a bikini for the first time in my memory she simply responded, “I want to feel young again.”
So we walked the block or so to the beach and looked out to the water. Dark clouds hung over the deep blue waters and a purple flag flapped in the wind with force.
A young man, maybe 20, drenched in water, with sunglasses and a surf board was walking in our direction with a scowl on his face. I decided, against my better judgement to ask why there was a purple flag on this day.
He sharply replied before walking off, “Why do you think? Sharks dude.”
“What type of sharks?” I screamed back, only to get no response.
I looked to my mother, disappointment on my face. Maybe tomorrow.
“Well, let’s try to come back tomorrow to see if the flag is a different color” I said.
“No,” my mother responded, “I’ve waited way too long for this moment. If there are sharks, let there be sharks, but I won’t let them rule my life.”
“Mom, you were just liberated from cancer, and now you’re just going to get yourself killed by a shark?”
“David, if I get killed by a shark, so be it. At least I will be doing what I want to do. And don’t forget that.”
So I watched as she strolled down to the beach, wind whipping, but it didn’t matter, she didn’t have any hair to get in her eyes. It almost seemed like with every step she took, she rose a little further off the ground, even though my mother was walking a slight downslope.
My mother’s pencil arms in perfect unison, when one bone went forward the other swayed back. For the first time in a long time, my mother had the spunk I knew what always in that crumpled body.
“You just stay and watch me from the beach,” she called to me, “I don’t want you to go down with me!”
So I sat down on the sea of sand, the temperature of the white stuff zapping me like lightning. There weren’t a lot of footprints in the sand, the purple flag had scared off many beachgoers.
Tiny droplets of rain started dripping down from the slab of black hovering over us. The wind was starting to resemble a coyote on a warm summer night.
But, these nuances didn’t make a dent into my mother’s world. It was almost as if she wasn’t with us anymore, but in her own plane. She dipped her feet in the water, as if to get acclimated after so long, before submerging herself waste deep and then finally neck deep.
As my mother swam around in the water, I got the impression she was dancing. The water splashed around in total unison, her arms moving around like a ballerina, a smile spread across her face. This was a genuine smile, unlike so many I see on a daily basis. She was truly happy.
Now, to this day I cannot tell you if this was real or not, but for a split second, I thought I saw a group of sharks dancing with my mother. It seemed as if they were all lined up in two perfectly straight lines, one in front of my mother, one behind, my mother placed perfectly in the middle. The sharks in the front line had left a space for my mother to have a perfect view of the beach.
She couldn’t see me, though. The only thing visible to her was God.
I look around me. The gulf gently splashing against the sandy shore, a sea of the golden sand around me, and think of how great things have turned out.
I am the luckiest kid.