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A Death and Life Situation

By Nadine B. Hoffman

 

2 guest col hoffman P1000529I’m sleeping a little more soundly now. But then, it’s been more than a week since I saw the dead man.

Sunday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend and the beach was snap-crackle-and-popping. I picked my way through the p.m. crowd and let my shabby pink towel settle onto a patch of packed sand at the crook of the berm. The evening tide was heading in, a foamy wash encroaching on sand castles and bright plastic sieves.

I arranged myself face up, my floppy hat cupping my eyes. I drifted off aimlessly, pleasantly, until an urgent, no-nonsense, “get help!” voice slashed through. Bolting upright, I scanned the coastline right to left, north to south. It took maybe three seconds to zoom in on the man; two more, max, for my throat to catch.

He lay on his back, too flat and too still, a mere 20 feet in front of me. As lifeguards, police, paramedics and beach patrol materialized, assessing, unpacking, and beginning what would be a futile 30 minutes of CPR, defibrillators, IVs, and eventually evacuation, I noticed the woman. Unlike her boyfriend, she was very much alive. Sand-encrusted and shivering, she crouched low at the water’s edge with her back turned resolutely to the gathering crowd. A turtle, seeking safety within its own shell. Trembling, hysterical, the woman’s tears fused with the droplets of salty Pacific Ocean water dotting her body; water from which she—and he—had only moments earlier emerged.

I wonder whether my arm encircling her shoulders (for I feared she would collapse,) and my hand, proffered and then fiercely gripped by hers (for she may have feared the same,) were in actuality keeping me afloat. While others stopped in their tracks and drew their loved ones close, I witnessed this tragedy by myself. Yet, there was one other person who, alas, found herself even more alone than I. For those few minutes, we were holding on to each other for dear life.

The uniforms had strapped the man to a backboard and whisked him off in the blinking ambulance. They’d located the woman and shepherded her away, as protocol would no doubt dictate. One of the paramedics bent to collect and bag the detritus of the day, strewn in a vaguely circular pattern: red plastic syringe caps, sticky defibrillator pads, snippets of IV hosing.

It happened in the blink of an eye—a ‘now you see it, now you don’t’ moment. Back on my pinkish towel, hugging my knees to my chin and staring vaguely ahead, I realized with a start that the beach was suddenly, again, just a beach.

Ashes to ashes.

The sand, sculpted by a day’s worth of divots and ruts from chairs and umbrellas, elbows and knees, was, in the end, just sand.

Dust to dust.

Under a sun beginning its slow descent, children skipped with their buckets and boogie boards, running squealing from the chilly water to their lolling parents, and back again. A young couple, newly arrived, strolled past hand in hand, and sat down just to my right. Smiling, they pulled out an iPad and posed for some scenic shots as the foamy wash made its way up the sand, and the surf crashed methodically, naturally, inexorably, in the background.

 

Local resident Nadine Hoffman owns NBH Communications and writes freelance by choice. She plies her trade at the keyboard, creating film and video scripts, web copy, marketing materials, press releases, speeches, poetry and prose. She can be reached at [email protected]

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