As the Boat Floats: Trauma Revisited

Characters: Laverne and Raymond, owners of Vertigo, Marie and Isabelle, their daughters; Jared, owner of Dream Weaver; Simon, marina manager

As I step off of Jared’s yacht, Laverne grabs the back of my jacket, nearly pulling me into the sliver of Lake Travis, between the cruiser and the dock.

“Whoa, Laverne! Are you trying to drown me?”

Laverne wails, “Hold onto me. I’m falling!”

I jump back onboard and catch Laverne before she collapses. I drag her to the stairs and slowly lower her onto a step. “What happened? What’s wrong? Are you all right?”

“I’m dizzy and I’m zoning out, fainting,” she mumbles. I hold her wobbly head firmly and gently direct it downward, between her knees, to redirect blood flow to her brain, as I learned in CPR class. Her hands grip my arms as if her life depends on the connection.

Her husband Raymond and daughters Marie and Isabelle gather around us, looking at me accusingly, as if to demand, “What have you done to her?”

“She told me she was going to blackout and I’m trying to bring her back,” I explain, still cradling her head.

“I’ll take over from here,” Raymond orders.

“No, I want Marilyn to help me,” she insists, as she lifts her head to confront him.

“Okay. We’ll meet you back at the boat,” he directs, leaving with the girls.

“Raymond thinks I make up my dizzy spells, but I don’t. They’re real and I’m afraid I’ll hurt myself when I fall,” Laverne confesses.

“What brought on this spell?” I ask.

“The flood, wind, waves, the whole situation. I was in a much smaller boat that capsized in such weather. It brought back these awful memories,” she explains.

“Can you get up? Let’s go to my houseboat where you can have privacy. If you don’t mind, I’d like to hear all about it.” Laverne reaches out and grabs my arm to steady herself. She shakes her head and looks down at the six-inch space between the cruiser and the dock, as if threatened by the distance.

“I’ll go first. I’ll help you step from the boat to the dock.” Staring at the gap, she takes a deep breath and lunges toward me, dragging her feet behind her. “I got you. You made it,” I encourage her, knowing that there’s another space she’ll have to traverse to get onboard my craft.

The entry to Prana’s bow has a swinging gate that provides a handhold she uses to steady herself. Inside Prana’s salon, Laverne drops onto the couch, breathing as if she ran a marathon.

“How about something to drink?” I ask.

“I’d love a glass of wine—white or red, it doesn’t matter.”

After a few sips, she begins, “We were in our ski boat, out on the widest part of the lake, not far from the dam. Marie, our oldest, was skiing behind the runabout. Raymond, Isabelle and I were eating sandwiches, keeping an eye on Marie but confident in her ability to ski the length of the lake without mishap if she wanted to. Without warning, a strong wind whipped the water surface into whitecaps—big ones, at last four-feet high. We’d never experienced anything like this on Lake Travis.

“The weather tumbled Marie and Raymond frantically maneuvered the boat to pick her up. She lost the skis and had trouble keeping her head above water, despite wearing a life jacket. Waves crashed over our runabout and Raymond struggled to regain control. On the starboard side, a 110-foot party boat, named Austintatious, nearly side-swiped us, probably not being able to see us being drowned in waves. At the same time on the port side, a cruiser raced by us in high gear in an attempt to outrun the storm by returning to the marina.

“I found myself underwater, sinking. I kicked upward, held onto the gunwale but saw no one else above water. Panicked, I dove underneath the boat, where I found Isabelle, hugging a life jacket, desperately holding her head above water inside the overturned boat. I motioned that we would go up, outside the boat. I held her hand and dragged her underwater.

“As we surfaced, we held onto the bottom of the capsized vessel. Marie was swimming toward our boat, being swept up, down, and sideways by the waves. Raymond knocked on the bottom of the boat, telling us he was on the opposite side from us. Neither Raymond nor I had worn life jackets. To preserve our stamina, we had to hold onto the craft. After fighting the current, Marie arrived, breathless, fatigued, and frightened. She tried unsuccessfully to climb out of the water onto the bottom of the boat. All of us were shaking with cold and fear. Raymond shouted hopeful remarks to us and tried to get us to sing with him. But as we tired, our grip relaxed. I caught myself slipping away and had to fight to return to the boat and my family.

“As darkness enveloped us, I lost my grip physically and mentally. Both Marie and Isabelle grabbed my arms and pulled me up. We held each other for warmth and faith that we would survive.

“I awoke to the sound of a motor. The three of us looked at each other for reassurance that this was not our imagination. The Coast Guard idled their vessel next to ours. The crew threw a ladder over the side and shouted, ‘Who’s first?’ The girls pushed me to the ladder. I protested but they insisted. On deck, the crew wrapped us in blankets, gave us hot cider, and congratulated us for our success.

“They towed our nearly submerged runabout back to the marina, where Simon tied the bow and stern to the dock and promised, ‘We’ll get her upright early tomorrow morning.’

“I cried. Instead of being a strong mother as an example to my daughters, I was the weakest. Raymond blamed himself for being unable to prevent the capsize. Each of us were so upset with ourselves that we could not offer any solace to each other. The girls translated our near fatal accident as an adventure that they couldn’t wait to tell their friends about.

“Since then, the ‘slipping away’ feeling overcomes me when I’m stressed.”

“I can help you with that. Have you heard of biofeedback?”

“No, but I’m ready to try,” Laverne volunteers.

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