And so, after two unsuccessful attempts by the Island of Maui to murder me in the face a lot, I grabbed my uninflated blow-up flotation donut and splashed into the beautiful but deadly waters of KokÄ« Beach. The plan was to inflate the donut and bask in tranquility once beyond the break. However I just couldn't get out there. I was in over my head and the waves just pushed and pulled me everywhere I did not want to go. So I abandoned my ill-advised floaty mission and proceeded to swim back to shore. Upon turning toward the beach, I noticed three things. The first was that I had been swept a considerable distance south. The second was an unknown Hawaiian woman—My Aloha Angel—standing on the jetty like a Hawaiian travel poster, the coastal wind fanning her long, black hair and yellow sarong as she frantically waved at me to get the hell out of there. The third thing I noticed was a flag protruding from the jetty. It was one of those, You-Better-Not-Go-On-the-Other-Side-of-This-Flag, type flags and, oh yes, dear reader, I was on the other side of that flag.
OK, don't panic, I thought. Just swim north and everything will be fine. What I didn't know was that I was already in the vortex. Also unknown to me was that only a few feet below lie a quarry of enormous and jagged volcanic rocks—you know, the kind of rocks at which sirens like to post up.
Being that I was unable to move north, my new plan was to head toward shore in the hope that I would quickly touch bottom and walk to safety. It was an exhausting war of endurance as each wave took a chunk from my stamina, pushing me down and pulling out as if I had no will. As if what I wanted meant nothing to the waves. I mean, what does the sea care about me? Even if Mother Ocean could care about—you know—stuff, my guess is she'd be more worried about increasing acidity levels, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and all those royalties from The Deadliest Catch she isn't getting.
Don't panic, don't panic—are the thoughts of a person who is already panicking, but every time a whitecap took me under, I would emerge to see my Aloha Angel watching and worrying. And even though she couldn't do anything but wave, her awareness brought comfort.
Mom tells the story of when she nearly drowned, caught in a rip of the coast of Baja. She said she could see the people frolicking on the beach, utterly unaware she was fighting for her life and how isolating and depressing that felt. In that moment I understood. It was like my Angel was my last remaining connection to humanity; to life.
And so I went, three feet forward and two feet back, for a seeming eternity, until I finally did touch bottom. But it wasn't sand on which I landed. It was a rock. A giant, plutonic, igneous, ultra-potassic, rhyolite rock—serrated and insolent like Ty Cobbs' cleats.
Oh, and get this! I was still hanging on to the floaty. Did you forget I still had that? Yeah, me too. And when I became aware that it was still in my hand, I had this whole, panic-addled conversation in my head about whether I should let it go. Because this particular uninflated plastic inflatable floatation device, which couldn't have cost more than 5 dollars, belonged to my good friend, and host, Donna B.
Then I thought, Fuh-uck that noise! If I get out of this mess I'll buy Donna a hundred inflatable donuts; a thousand! Christ oh Lord in Heaven, if I get out of this jam, I'll buy a plastic inflatable flotation donut for every underprivileged kid in America who lives near a body of water but doesn't have anything on which to bask, the poor bastards! But then I had another, more jarring, thought. Now, hold on a minute. If I get swept out to sea I might need this thing!
The scariest moment came when my right foot lodged between two boulders. I thought I was done-for. The avalanche of waves (aqualanche? Naaah.) kept pushing my femur against the angle of the wedge to its breaking point and making it difficult to keep my head above water, which I was now swallowing at an alarming rate. But then, by some miracle—perhaps Mother Ocean received her first royalty check and her heart softened a bit—there came an uncharacteristic lull in the swell that lasted exactly long enough to break free.
Then, a mad dash for the beach! It is all waves and rocks and inhaling water—like I am in a washing machine loaded with salt and bricks—getting closer now, pulling myself across the quarry on my hands and knees and stomach and brain and soul and face—closer, closer—crash-boom-bang and gulp-gag-choke then, amazingly, I am in knee-high tide.
My body is trembling as I whip the donut up to the sand. My knees give out and my buttocks freefall face first onto yet another igneous rock. As I'm sitting there in a wading pool of volcanic rubble—my buttocks, bones and body throbbing as these laughable, little pussy waves impotently slap at the small of my back—I think, You know, I really need to call my parents more often.