I am trying to find the woman who saved my life a year ago.
Just when you think you have “processed” a trauma, you find out, you’ve only just begun.
I called the EMT unit on Duck, N. C. I thought they might have her name as she was a witness. The fellow said it was unlikely, and it would take about a week, but he’d look it up. He said they try to keep all that information confidential. I said I understood, and I would give them permission to give the woman my name, but that I very much wanted to tell her the rest of the story. That seems important to me. If she hadn’t seen me, if she hadn’t run into the water with her clothes on, if she hadn’t sent her mother to get the lifeguard, another large wave would have taken me out and that would have been that. Instead–out of all the hundreds of people partying on that beach last July Fourth–she saw me and saved my life. Not only that, but she allowed herself into my pain. When she came to me, I grabbed her hard and cried, “please don’t leave me.” She looked right into my eyes and said she wouldn’t leave me. And she didn’t
My daughter said that when they loaded me into the ambulance, a woman who matched her description had been at the ambulance door, weeping. As terrible as it was for me, it was also painful for her to be wrenched out of her celebrations, her relaxing beach vacation, her sense of “all’s right with the world.” I hope she had a good stiff drink that night.
As I explained to the EMT what happened and why I wanted to contact her, I started crying. It all came back, that feeling of vulnerability, of pain, of complete and utter helplessness. Everything I haven’t allowed myself to feel as I focused on each small step of my recovery. Every time I’ve mentioned it this week, the same thing happens. It is as though, as a friend suggested, my body had to heal and become strong enough to experience all these emotions. I write about trauma, for pete’s sake, I should know what to expect. But it is taking me by surprise. What I had taken as strength seems to have been postponed grief. But this feels like good grief, as if my tears are finally re-hydrating me, the way a summer storm revives the earth, clears the air.
If I find her, this is what I will tell her: that on the one-year anniversary of my accident, I sang in the choir, and that the psalm for the day was Psalm 30,
“O LORD my God, I called to you for help
and you healed me.
3 O LORD, you brought me up from the grave [b] ;
you spared me from going down into the pit….
You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy…”
I will tell her that my son asked me to play tennis after church, and I was able to do it. I will tell her that after our tennis game we went swimming. I will tell her that I am taking the tango lessons I’ve always dreamed of taking. I will tell her that I went to a cook-out last night surrounded by old friends. I will tell her that I’m beginning to write again. And yes, it was a hard year, wearing a body brace for six months, unmitigated pain, that I was often impatient with the slow process, that I sickened of the color of our bedroom wall, of having to sleep in a hospital bed. I will tell her it isn’t over, the pain is still there, but it is nothing compared to the joys that surround me. Nothing compared to the knowledge I have of how precious each day is, of how deeply I am loved.