The summer I turned 12, I was in Pakistan. My mother, brother and sister were with me for a short time at the beginning of the trip and this orange peel is from that time.
We were in Karachi for a wedding; my mom’s next younger sister was the bride. Once the fervor over the wedding settled, we went to one of the many beaches in town. The one we went to had large volcanic rocks dotting the shoreline. My siblings and I had not been to the beach very frequently in Chicago, certainly the beaches of Lake Michigan, along Lake Shore Drive are not comparable to the beach we saw that day in Pakistan. The ocean was a powerful, terrifying phenomenon to my youthful eyes. It beckoned to me, hypnotic and mysterious. I listened to its call and for most of the day, I wandered close enough to get wet, but not so close that it would envelope me. I didn’t know how to swim so I tried to be careful.
We ate a picnic lunch and Mom let me and my sister go for a camel ride, which was an experience unlike any I had experienced to that point, nor since. As the sun began to slowly sink to the horizon, we gathered our things and prepared to leave,
But the ocean still sang its siren song and my mom, sister and I went back to the rocks for one last look as the tide came in. My younger sister climbed up on one of the huge rocks and my mother followed her. I was on the sand under them, looking for shells when, suddenly, a massive wave swept over me, blinding me and sucking the sand out from beneath me, sucking me into the ocean.
Frantically, my hands grabbed at the rocks or anything I could hold on to, trying to avoid certain death. I couldn’t grasp the rocks but my hand found my mother’s ankle. The wave washed over us, but as I had grabbed Mom, she fell and so did my sister, All the onlookers dashed over to where we were, to find my mom and my sister sputtering, and me sobbing and clinging to Mom’s foot, the three of us lying on the sand.
Mom saved my life that day but she didn’t really know it until later. At the time, she was mad at me for knocking her down. Sometimes to this day, she grumbles about how her ankle hurts because I knocked her into the ocean.
I have been thinking of this experience lately. Three months ago, a different sort of wave washed over me suddenly. My father, the rock I would try to cling to in times of need, passed away. And in the days since he has gone, I have been drowning and sputtering, trying to save my own life.
I share this orange peel with my friends, who have been reaching out to me, who have sent emails, cards, phone calls or text messages of encouragement. For those who have been so patient when I have backed out of plans or isolated myself because I am transfixed in place by my grief, I share this with my loved ones, who have given me space and continue to love me despite any bruised “ankles” when I have reached out in sheer panic. In my mind, those who have given me what I need are like my Mom was that day on the seashore. Someone to hold on to. And if my friends, you want to grumble, I will just do what I do when Mom does it. I smile and say thank you for saving my life.