The ocean was wild that August afternoon. There is something both foreboding and inviting about the ocean at the end of the summer: it’s aggressive and unpredictable, a harbinger of far-away hurricanes that are growing, gaining strength, and toying with the possibility of ripping through the New England coastline.
We weren’t thinking about hurricanes, though. My brother Peter, my husband, Kevin, and I stood on the Point Judith beach in Narragansett, Rhode Island, mesmerized by the sight of huge waves crashing into the breakwater rocks. The spray was beautiful: wet white fireworks, exploding low on the horizon.
“Let’s go feel the spray,” Peter suggested. He had echoed my exact thoughts. It was hot – feeling splashed by the cold, salty ocean sounded so refreshing.
This was Kevin’s first trip to Point Judith and I was excited to be sharing this spot with him. We clambered onto the rocks that formed the breakwater and headed out on them toward the ocean. We were determined to get up close to the massive waves and to feel sweet, wet relief. Every once in a while, an enormous wave washed completely over the rocks. No spray, just a cascade of flowing water. Peter and I could not wait to get closer to the action. Kevin, however, took a more considered approach.
“Hey guys, we probably shouldn’t get too close ... ” I was so caught up in the moment, however, that it simply did not occur to me that our little adventure was dangerous.
Peter, Kevin, and I were standing about 15 feet apart from each other out on the rocks facing the Atlantic. It was exhilarating being up close to these magnificent swells of water, watching as they gained momentum and crashed unto the rocks below us. We were happy and in awe of it all.
Suddenly, I noticed an enormous wall of water heading right toward the place I was standing. As it approached, I instinctively crouched into a ball and wrapped my arms protectively around my head. I have no memory of the water hitting me and knocking me off the rocks, but I remember the trip down clearly.
It took three revolutions for me to hit the ocean below. My arms, legs, and hips slammed into rock on the way down and I remember thinking: "if my head smashes next, I’m dead." Mercifully, the vast amount of water buffered me and I suffered scrapes, gashes, and, eventually, a colorful array of bruises – but no broken bones.
The painful trip down was not the most terrifying part. More intense fear gripped me during the few seconds it took for the wave water to recede. I un-scrunched my body, stood up, and was still over my head in water. Panic! I remember thinking: "Oh God, I don’t want to drown."
Then, like magic, the water dissipated. Gashes and blood notwithstanding, it felt great to be standing only shoulder deep in water. I enjoyed a few seconds of sweet relief, before a new rush of panic enveloped me: What if the next wave knocks me out to the middle of the Atlantic, or at the very least, back off the rocks I needed to ascend to get the heck out of there.
Just then, Peter appeared above me.
“Don’t panic!” he yelled, a little panicky. “Just stay calm!” He later confided that he had been afraid he might find me all broken to pieces.
“I can’t get up the rocks,” I yelled, trembling. They were completely covered with green slippery slime. Peter carefully made his way down the rocks and reached out to pull me up. Because of the thick algae, I had no traction at all, and then I noticed – I was wearing only one shoe! My little pink Ked had somehow been ripped from my foot during the tumble off the rocks.
Peter helped me climb up and onto the rocks and Kevin carefully and cautiously escorted me back to the little beach, mindful of rogue waves the entire time. But the rest of the walk was uneventful.
The loss of my sneaker has always been a source of intrigue. In fact, it struck Peter too. I remember as he handed me off to Kevin, he went back to search for the missing shoe. He never found it. Why wasn’t it floating where he found me? Was it under the rocks, or had it been rapidly taken out to sea, as I’d feared would be my fate?
After we’d determined I didn’t need medical attention, I got back into the ocean and lounged there for a while. I wanted the salt water to heal my bloody wounds and I also needed to make peace with the sea as quickly as I could; it was untenable for me to have something that I love so much out of my good graces.
Climbing on breakwater rocks by a rough and raucous ocean is still something I love to do. The sea will always draw me towards it. But since my rocks/wave debacle, I am more respectful of the power of the ocean.
And what became of my little lost shoe? I’ll never know. I look for it every year when visiting Point Judith. I’ll always be grateful that the sea claimed it that day. Yes, it and not me.