Most people assume that the best part of The Real World fiasco was my newfound notoriety. Yes, the fifteen minutes of fame was fun, but my most satisfying takeaway is knowing that I can survive that intense drop in temperature. That whatever physical hardship comes at me now, it can not possibly be colder than atop that windmill.
And then I fall overboard into Puget Sound.
Instantly soaked to the bone, I am woefully underdressed for these conditions. The waves brought on by this storm are lifting us up ten feet at a time. My neck is slightly warmer, since there is a sled dog, Charlotte, slung across my shoulders. She belongs to my newest acquaintance, who is also in the water with me. Taylor...gosh, I don't even know his last name...Taylor is having a time keeping afloat with the other dog, Moose, who is much heavier.
When the ferry almost tilted over, we were on a crew-only deck with few protective barriers. Holding onto the dogs, we both tried to catch the railing with one hand as we slid down. I have a bruised forearm and Taylor tells me he thinks his hand is broken. His head is bobbing in and out of the water as Moose keeps pushing him down. I gesture at him to let go of Moose. He can balance on his shoulders like Charlotte is on mine.
While Taylor is struggling with this task, I wave my arms wildly at the ferry. Most of the windows are up on higher decks. I can't even see the top of the ship, the clouds are so low. I realize no one can see us. I lower my arms, not knowing how long I will need those muscles to stay afloat. I am amazed at how calm Charlotte is on my shoulders. I guess full time sled dogs need a higher tolerance for hellish conditions.
Though the ferry is still rocking, it's also slowly sailing away from us. I see no one on deck, but I go to yell anyway. I have to cup my hands close to my mouth to keep seawater and rain from streaming in. My inhalation is short since I'm already breathing quickly. My voice is weak and scratchy and my yell carries nowhere. Taylor probably can't even hear me ten feet away.
Now I can barely see the ship. I see no land. I see nothing but my own hair as Charlotte ruffles it into my face. She catches her toenail on my hair tie and pulls it out, along with some hair by the roots.
Enough. Can someone else man up now?
"Persephone!" We have to swim closer and scream to be heard over the storm.
"Which way should we swim?"
"Swimming will tire us out more and get us more lost. Better to stay on the ferry path."
"We're just going to tread water till the next ferry? That's suicide!"
"I've got one good hand. I can't swim."
"Come on, do you want me to drag you?"
I know it's weird that I am thinking about this in our state, but at that moment any possibility of me sleeping with him died.
"You don't have to flex the muscles. Just wrap the fingers together and paddle. Is it that bad?"
He shows me his swollen purple hand.
"Okay, it is bad."
He says, "Let's try your idea anyway."
I help him tear the sleeve of his shirt and tie it around his right hand. Its effects are probably zero, but it gives us a tiny task-completion boost.
I turn to look at the fading ship, my one point of reference, but it's gone.
I say to Taylor, "Okay, I am getting scared now. I can't even see the back of the ship - bow, stern, whatever it's called. I'm not a nautical person. I am a businessperson. I am supposed to be boarding my flight to Singapore soon. I should have never gotten on the ferry!"
"Then why did you come with me?"
"I did not think I would fall overboard!"
"No. Let me restate it. Why did you come with me and not just go on your own?"
"Because it's nice to have company?"
"Or because you were attracted to me."
I cock my head and squint. Is he taking it this direction, of all times, of all places?
"Wwwwhat! What are you talking about? Can I not have one day where someone does not hit on me?"
"I know. Life must be rough as an attractive woman."
"What are you, Taylor? God's gift to womankind?"
"Hey, I don't go around flirting to get free sled rides."
"I'm not going to give it up because you showed me around Seattle. You could've refused."
"Like you're refusing right now."
"Right now. Right now? Are you kidding me? Right now we are lost, freezing - hopefully not to death - and it's almost night."
"Here's a tip, then we can drop it: if you want to know if a man is going to hit on you, look at his hand. If there is no ring, the answer is yes. If there is a ring, the answer is still yes."
I roll my eyes. "What a great husband you'll be."
We float silently for a long time.
The sky is darkening. The waves are calming down, but there is still a thick fog all around us.
Taylor says, "We need to conserve body heat if we want to make it through the night. Then I pray it clears and the morning ferry will see us. Come here. Put your left arm around me."
We squeeze together, chest to chest. Our heads are over each other's left shoulder, cheek to ear. Our right arms are out, slowly treading, slowly tiring.
I haven't separated my fingers in a while. I think they're starting to freeze together.
The dogs are half submerged, paws and heads over our right shoulders.
I am tired. Tired in the sleep way, not just the sore muscle way.
I burble out in a monotone: "I want to cut open this dog. Stick my head in its guts for warmth."
Taylor's eyes are closed as he answers. "We're not going to do that."
"Okay. A hot tub."
"I don't even want a hot tub. I want to lie down, dry, in a hundred yards of soft flannel. Then a grounds crew will roll me up like a burrito."
"I want a burrito."
"With dog meat."
"I don't want to lose my hand, Persephone."
"You won't lose your hand, Taylor. We're keeping it warm." His left arm is sandwiched between us.
"It's broken and frozen. I think they will amputate it. I will need a new job. I can't drive a dogsled with one hand."
"I can drive my car with my knees."
"Dogsled is different."
We float. My sentences lose their structure when my words sputter out of my blue lips.
"Lose hand not end of world."
"Let me shave your head."
"Lose hair end of world."
We float. I am reduced to mostly noises. My eyes hurt.
Taylor joins me in the subzero grammar club. "What you say?"
"Ngghhhhhh. No shine light in face."
Our mental processing has slowed. Charlotte and Moose, silent for hours now, start barking. It is a sharp pain to my ears. I pry my eyes open. They catch fire. The sky was deadly black a second ago. Now it's bright enough to bring a headache.
Am I dead?
I can see two figures under the light. My money is on God and Jesus. One of them speaks.
"Sir! It's the corpses. They're being devoured by mer-wolves!"
"Step aside...they're not dead."
I hear splashing, coming closer. My vision is still spotty from the light. Next thing I remember is being hauled up and over into a sitting position. Never felt so good to sit. I feel something...dry! I blink. Things slowly come into focus.
I almost sound disappointed when I say, "We're not dead? Where am I? Who are you?"
"Lieutenant McDonough. You are aboard the USS Monarch, ma'am."
Taylor is sitting next to me, also wrapped in a blanket. One of the officers is toweling off the dogs.
Taylor asks, "How did you navy guys find us?"
"US Coast Guard. After your ferry docked, no one came to claim the dogs in the kennel. We retraced the path of the ferry to you."
Taylor looks at me. So he was right.
I say to him, "You never did tell me your last name."
The dog-toweling coast guard guy says, "That's a good sailor's name. Tell your sister Susan hello."
Taylor looks at him. "Huh?"
"Uh, I don't have - "
"It's a joke! Did you sleep through all your classes or just American History?"
"Sorry to hear that."
Lt. McDonough says, "Stop harassing them, officer. Folks, this ship is due to be sent for recommission in District 5 in Norfolk, Virginia, tomorrow morning. Technically, now, this morning. It is our honor to return you safely to US soil for our final District 13 assignment. There is medical staff awaiting you on shore."
We both thank the lieutenant.
Taylor says to me, "I'd still like to meet up on your next..." He seems to measure his words, "...stopover."
I smile. "Next stopover, definitely."
He then asks the lieutenant. "Are we going back to Seattle?"
"No. We will be landing in the town of Sequim."
I laugh. "Ah ha! Skwim."
Accidentally deleted my Norfolk photos, so here's your basic Constant Center shot