Rehoboth Beach, 1979
A rip current is a horizontal current. Rip currents do not pull people under the water—they pull people away from shore. Drowning deaths occur when people pulled offshore are unable to keep themselves afloat and swim to shore. This may be due to any combination of fear, panic, exhaustion, or lack of swimming skills.
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Make no mistake: the sea would swallow us all,
every last one of us, if she had her way.
Having read about oceans extensively,
I was aware of their association
with both high adventure and early demise.
My own childhood was landlocked. Smaller bodies
of water were familiar, though. We skated,
my sister and I, during the winter months
across ripples of lakes frozen solid while
gripping corners of a tattered patchwork quilt
that had seen better days (it smelled of Pennzoil,
like the trunk of our green Chevy Malibu),
propelled by howling winds. This felt akin to
sailing. I had also fished in rivers and
swam in ponds and splashed in puddles and whatnot.
Who would have thought my first sight of the sea would
be my last? Its scope almost too vast to be
believed, the imprint of waves crashing onto
the beach projected onto an inward screen
even after the lids of my eyes were closed
to shield them from the rays of sun blazing down,
the stinging stench, rotten yet somehow clean, as
saline scoured my nasal passages and made
the snot flow freely, the grit of sand in each
and every fold of skin, the searing heat on
the soles of my feet axed by the icy tide,
the roar even more imposing than all my
other senses rolled together into one.
I’d lost a fingertip in an accident
involving the bolt lock on the kitchen door
and had to hold my bandaged hand encased
in a plastic sandwich bag above the waves,
which is probably why I failed to notice
how the riptide started to wrest me away
from the shore, where both my parents stood helpless,
their shouts of warning shredded by the breeze.
Tanya Huntington is a bi-national author and artist who resides in Mexico City. She is Managing Editor of the digital magazine Literal: Latin American voices. Her most recent books are Vidas sin fronteras (Alfaguara Infantil, 2019) as an illustrator and Solastalgia (Almadía, 2018) as a poet. She holds a Ph.D. in Latin American literature from the University of Maryland at College Park, where she studied under José Emilio Pacheco, and currently teaches Poetry and Design at CENTRO. She received a membership grant from the National System of Creative Artists of the National Fund for Culture and the Arts (FONCA) for the 2018-2021 cycle. Her articles, poems, photographs and art have been published in Comment Is Free for The Guardian, the Laberinto section of the newspaper Milenio, the Cultura section of La Razón, and the magazines Casa del Tiempo, Cold Mountain Review, Dead Skunk Mag, Desbandada, df, Diario de Cuba, Este País, La Gaceta del FCE, Hoja por hoja, Letras Libres, Metrópolis, National Geographic Traveler, Nexos, Otros diálogos, Periódico de Poesía, Sin Embargo, Transtierros, and ZiN Daily, among others. Follow her on Twitter @TanyaHuntington and Instagram @tanya_huntington or contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org