When I was 13, we went for a family vacation in Denmark. We stayed in an adorable little beach cottage with a thatched roof not far from the North Sea. We could walk to the water every day. B., my 10 year old brother, and I spent hours each day bobbing around in the water, dunking one another, splashing our father, and trying to coax our mother out from under her jacket, long pants and blanket. Summer on the North Sea is not an exceptionally warm affair, and not many people would venture into the frigid water for long. We, however, didn't care if our lips turned blue while swimming. Aside from my mother's death threats when Dad used our camera's telephoto lens on the topless sun bathers, most of our stay was fairly uneventful. One day it stormed. I don't recall what we did the day of the storm but I do know that the next day, my brother and I were clamoring to go back to the beach, despite the choppy waves.
The water was dark that day. There was no cheerful foam dancing across the water. The surf was grey and solemn and cold. Still, B. and I were determined to enjoy the water while our parents sat on the beach soaking up what little warmth the sun could give. We splashed and swam around, slowly working our way out further and further into the storm tossed sea. I swam out far into the waves and B. followed. As always, he was tailing after the big sister he adored. I was a strong swimmer. At that point, I had been swimming competitively for about 5 years, but even I was having a bit of trouble with the undertow. I decided to swim back and when I turned around, I saw my brother to the side of me about 15 feet away and far too close to the rocks jutting out into the water. I could see B.'s mouth gulping and then moving as if to call for me, but I don't remember hearing him. He was struggling to tread water and to keep from moving closer to the rocks. I don't remember how I got to him. But when I did, he threw his arms around my neck and I could feel his panic through my arms. I started to swim and yelled at B. to kick as hard as he could. My arms were straining through the water and my legs were frantic as they scissored away. But we weren't moving. I was swimming as hard as I could just to stay in place, to keep us from being smashed against the rocks.
I was terrified.
I somehow finally felt the water catch and move through my cupped hands and bent legs. We slowly, struggled forward, inch by inch, to the safety of the shore. Our parents never noticed that we were in trouble. I'm sure they thought we were playing and we never told them anything. B. and I have talked about that day on the beach in Denmark many times. Each time it's been clear to me that B. never doubted that I would save him. He put his arms around me and put his faith in me. I don't think he's ever realized just how scared I was and just how close we both came to drowning. I've never told him.
That's me. The protector, the rock, the peacemaker, the balance in everyone's life. I have a role to play and I do it well. I never let anyone know when I'm in trouble or floundering. Very, very few people ever get inside. I am closer to my brother than anyone in the world, aside from my husband, and even he doesn't know. I can't let anyone see my weaknesses. It's not some flaw in my family, my brother, my friends. It's just the way I am. The only one who ever sees my tossed and turbulent waters is T. And even he has to fight to get a glimpse.
Since my second little boy was born, I've struggled with this whole motherhood thing. I love my children with an ache I didn't know I could have, but sometimes I feel as if they are devouring me. Their wet sloppy toddler kisses are so sweet and uplifting, but they suck my energy dry. I'm always tired. I'm always frustrated. I'm always angry. I play with my beautiful boys and I know how lucky I am. But this feeling is always there lurking. This feeling that I'm swimming and swimming as hard as I can away from the rocks. And I'm not moving. I'm not moving! If I stop swimming for even a moment, if I let my guard down, the undertow will pull me out to sea or the waves will dash me against the rocks.
I know that I can't make it to the shore by myself. I need help. I need to put my arms around T. and kick for all it's worth. But for some twisted reason it's easier for me to keep frantically treading water than to open my mouth and scream.
Edited to add - It was very hard for me to hit the publish button on this post. This blog is not anonymous. My family, a few friends, and some co-workers read this. If you Google my real name, you'll find my blog. But I need to write this somewhere. I need to write the words. But just because I do, does not mean that I want to talk about it. Does that make sense? I'd like to pretend for this post that I really am anonymous, so I ask that people who know me in real life please respect that.