By Alejandro De La Garza
Okay, you know those stories where people start off by saying something like, ‘You’ll probably think I’m crazy,’ or ‘You’ll never believe what I’m about to tell you’? Well, I won’t exactly say that, but …
I’m such a practical person. I guess you’d expect that of a paralegal. I couldn’t even imagine swimming in the ocean in February. But, when I went to Easter Island last year – February last year – with Cindy and Jessica, that’s exactly what we did. Swam in the ocean – in February! It was in the middle of their summer, like August up here. But, Houston is nowhere near as beautiful as Easter Island. I’ve always said I wanted to get stuck on a remote island for a while – just to clear my head. That’s why I took that one trip to Yosemite – just to be alone and think about things.
I have to admit I really didn’t want to go. I was still so upset after breaking up with Robert right after that Labor Day mess. I just wanted to sulk. I mean, right in front of everybody, like we were on a talk show, Robert announces he’s done with me. Done with me?! Like I’m an old cell phone. I should have seen that coming, but I just didn’t. I wanted everything in life. I already had the perfect career. I just wanted someone to share it with. Robert seemed like the perfect man for me. He wasn’t controlling and he didn’t want to jump in bed as soon as we met. After a year, though, I sensed something was wrong. I thought it was because of Cindy and Jessica.
Cindy, Jessica and I have been friends for years. We’re always hanging out, going places, flirting with men, crying on each other’s shoulders. We’re all business professionals, but if you saw us in a social setting, you’d think we were a comedy troupe. I think most men get scared of us. But, we really have a lot of fun together. In fact, I have more fun with them than I ever did with Robert.
I think Robert was kind of jealous of Cindy and Jessica. They didn’t like him anyway; they just sort of tolerated him. But, then again, he didn’t really care much for them either. They all tried to be respectful of one another. Cindy and Jessica knew how I felt about Robert, so I guess they didn’t want to interfere too much. But, when things started to go bad between Robert and me, I had no one else to turn to, except Cindy and Jessica. They’re two of my best friends, and we’ve always been there for one another.
It was about two weeks after the Labor Day blow-up that Jessica suggested we take a road trip out to San Antonio. But then – literally out of nowhere – Cindy mentioned Easter Island.
For some reason, I had the impression Easter Island was some sort of giant nature reserve; off-limits to tourists. But, I was pleased to find out it’s not. Even before I could say anything, Cindy started making travel plans.
“Girl, I’m not in the mood to go anywhere now!” I told her. “Not even a road trip!”
“Damn, Susana!” she said. “You can’t be acting like this!” She was pissed that I was still upset about Robert.
But, she was right. I couldn’t let him ruin my life like that. I spent most of my time sulking. Then, it dawned on me that all three of us were single; none of us were in a relationship at the time. That hadn’t happened in a while. One of us had been involved with someone at some point over the past few years.
I knew planning for a trip to a place like Easter Island takes plenty of time and energy. It’s not a just a simply plane flight away. It’s almost halfway around the world. And, because of my legal background, I suppose, I just don’t make spur-of-the-moment plans. We’d always left that to Cindy. She was the wild one of the bunch.
But, I finally just said, ‘What the hell,’ and started getting ready.
I don’t know what’s the worst part about vacations: the packing or the traveling. I didn’t know what all to take with me. I knew I had to take my hair and skin care stuff. I never really bother with nail polish. I only use clear polish. Cindy’s nail polish always has to match her shoes. Then, Cindy had to get a passport. She just barely made it by the time we took off.
I can sit in a conference room for an hour discussing the minutia of legal strategy, but a 15-hour plane flight will test anyone’s patience. So, in retrospect, I guess the actual traveling is the worst part. But, all the while, Cindy kept saying, “Just think of those beaches! Just think of those beaches!”
There’s absolutely nothing like being on an isolated island. It’s a wonder humans ever made it there in the first place. They had to have found it just by chance. It’s such a tiny speck of land, almost in the middle of nowhere. I just find it amazing.
On our first day, we met a middle-aged man named Atamu. He was incredibly friendly – aren’t all island residents friendly? – and rather handsome. He had such a pretty smile, and his eyes would literally light up; they had a gilded tint to them. His deep auburn hair was thick and wavy. Atamu was born and raised on the island and worked to educate people about the importance of caring for the environment. Easter Island has a rather nasty legacy of environmental destruction. Atamu kept insisting the world, as a whole, could learn from the mistakes his ancestors made.
I never really thought that much about the environment – not to the level of actually doing something about it. That’s what Cindy does. She really takes those things seriously, and I guess I should, too. Cindy and Atamu ended up becoming fast friends. She has that really outgoing type of personality, whereas Jessica is more moderate, and I’m more subdued. So, if the three of us go anywhere new, Cindy is usually plays the ambassador role.
But, you’d think Cindy and Atamu had known each other for years. They fed off each other, almost like a married couple. It was so funny watching them. Atamu naturally took visitors on tour guides. Of course, we had to see the giant mo’ai; those monolithic heads lined up along the coasts. We probably learned more than we ever needed to know about those things from Atamu. But, it’s a fascinating piece of history.
We stayed at a resort near the town of Orongo on the far southwestern corner of the island. It was late on that first day when we made our way to a beach. After all, that’s why we were here. The resort sat back in a cove-like setting, so it looked like we were surrounded by land on three sides. But, I have to say the waters of the South Pacific are unbelievable! I’ve never seen water that shade of turquoise. It was truly as breathtaking as the mo’ai.
But, just being on that island, thousands of miles from home, far from anything, put me at ease like nothing had ever done before. We did the usual touristy things, of course, aside from heading out to look at the mo’ai. But, we always headed for that beach.
On our third day there, I trotted out to the water’s edge as usual. I just waded in until the water was knee-high. Then, it suddenly began to swell around me, and before I knew it, I was being sucked further out into the ocean. It startled me at first, but at the same time, it was exciting. There was that rush through my brain. I felt at first I was going out too far. Then, I managed to kick my way to the surface. I was further away than I thought, but it didn’t bother me at all. I had so fallen in love with this place!
I started swimming back to shore when I felt something grab at my feet. It scared me because I instantly thought about sharks. And then, jellyfish. I don’t know anyone in their right mind who wants to encounter either of those things.
I kept swimming, but it grabbed me again – and I realized instantly it didn’t feel like an animal mouth. It wasn’t a shark biting down on my ankle, or a tentacle wrapping around it. It was literally someone gripping me – a hand.
My first thought, amidst all the confusion, was that someone had been swept out along with me and they were drowning. I remembered something about rip tides and I thought that’s what was happening. I’d been caught up in one of those rip tides, along with somebody else – although I didn’t recall seeing anyone near me.
But, it really startled me badly. I mean, bad! And, I’m used to dealing with lawyers, mind you.
So, I started thrashing around; doing an alligator death roll-type of movement to scare them away. But then, they grabbed me again. Whoever it was beneath me had managed to get a grip on my ankle. Then, I realized they had both ankles. Whoever this person was – panicking under the water – had grabbed both my ankles. That’s when I started to lose it.
Then, they pulled me under. This poor soul was drowning – and I was going right along with them. Well, I thought for a second, at least I’ll die in paradise.
But, the panic set in – unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. I’ve been scared, but I’ve never been terrified. And, I mean truly, absolutely, undeniably terrified!
This person kept pulling me downward. They really had a firm grip on my ankles. I stopped thrashing around. I hadn’t even thought about screaming because it startled me so much. But, under water…well, no one can hear you scream.
Whoever this person was kept putting their hands on me, as if inspecting me. I was too scared to get offended. Then, as I floated down, it got dark; really dark. Dark, dark blue – indigo. The bright turquoise color had gone, as had the sun – and the sound of the waves.
Then, I saw those golden-colored eyes. I thought – for that first second – it was an octopus. For some reason, that came to mind. It wasn’t a person. Some giant Pacific octopus had grabbed my ankles and pulled me down – and was about to kill me.
But, it wasn’t that. It wasn’t an octopus. It was a face. It was someone. It really was a person who’d been beneath me. Rip tide, I thought again. We’d both been caught up in a rip tide, and this person had panicked when they saw me and just lunged upward.
But, those eyes – gold-colored. I’d dated a guy in college who had gold-colored eyes. Then, I realized I was dying. This was it – I really was dying, and my life was literally flashing before me. So, that is true. Damn! I won’t be able to tell anyone about it.
Those eyes – those gold-colored eyes – were set into a narrow face. It was a man; he had to be. He had no hair on his head. And, he kept putting his hands on me. But, I was still too terrified to get offended.
Who was this man? How did he get here? How philosophical one gets in the midst of death! I looked down – without really thinking about it – and just noticed a dark mass. What should have been his body – it was just a mass. But, those eyes – those yellow-gold eyes – just looking at me. He cocked his head a little, the way dogs do when they see something new.
Who are you?
Then, I realized he’d pulled his hands off of me. In the depths of that water, I could make out his broad shoulders and muscular arms. But, he didn’t have his hands on me anymore. So, I started moving away. My hair had wrapped around my head, but I kept backing away.
I was drowning. Oh God! I really was drowning! That’s such a terrifying sensation. But, before I knew it, I was on the water’s surface; still far away from the beach.
I began swimming and finally reached the sand. I was exhausted and shaking.
Then, as I began crawling up the shore, I felt a pair of hands grab my arms. And, I thought, ‘Oh, God! He’s back!’
But, it was Cindy and Jessica.
“My God,” screamed Jessica. “What the hell happened?! You disappeared!”
I couldn’t speak.
“Susana, are you okay?!” hollered Cindy.
Their voices sounded hollow; like we were in a wind tunnel. Other people were around us and were talking and shouting, too.
They finally half-carried, half-dragged me to our spot on the beach; far away from the water.
“What happened?” Jessica asked again. She sounded normal.
“I – uh – I don’t know,” I finally was able to say. And, I didn’t know. I really didn’t know what had just happened.
“She almost drowned,” I heard Cindy say, before realizing she was talking to someone else; a man from the resort.
After a few more minutes, I was able to gather my senses and my breath – and began to feel incredibly embarrassed. I’m not one for drama. That’s Cindy’s job. But, here I was on this beach on an island in the middle of nowhere, and I’d managed to cause a scene.
That evening, we sat in the hotel’s piano lounge. The sun was setting. I’d never seen it set over an ocean. I kept staring at it; just staring.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Cindy asked – again.
“Yea,” I said, “why?”
“What do you mean why?!” Her voice carried and caught the attention of some other guests.
“I’m fine,” I told her. I looked at Jessica and repeated myself. “I’m fine.”
The next day we decided to forgo the beach and head into Orongo. I hadn’t really forgotten about the day before, though I decided not to dwell on it. I decided to treat it like a bad case: just get over it. But – deep down inside – I was still scared.
“Hello, my American girlfriends!” Atamu had come out of nowhere.
We were happy to see him. He had such a pretty smile.
“We were just walking around,” said Jessica, as if that wasn’t obvious.
“That’s good! Very good! Walking is good.” He looked at me. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine,” I told him. “Why?”
“I heard about that incident yesterday – out on the beach.”
“Yes. Are you okay?”
“Yes – I’m fine. Thank you.”
“That happens sometime. You go out in the water – too far sometime. The ocean is so big and very good to us. But, it can be scary.”
“Tell me about.”
His eyes glinted, even in the shade of a store. “We make lives from ocean for thousands of years. We mean no harm.”
“Oh – okay.”
“I must go. Family stuff. My American girlfriends, enjoy the rest of your stay! Hope to see you before you go back!”
“Oh, you will, honey!” said Cindy.
Atamu bowed, taking off his straw hat, and disappeared into a crowd.
“He’s so nice,” said Jessica.
“Everyone’s been nice to us down here,” added Cindy.
I stood there against the building; just looking out into the crowd. I saw Atamu’s face again. He smiled – those gold-colored eyes smiling with him.
I was no longer scared.