The Boiler

Jennifer Renee Blevins

EQUILIBRIUM, OR MY MOTHER WOULD HAVE FELT THE SAME WAY

During this year’s trip to the beach, we took a ferry to the island with the feral ponies because you can’t get there any other way. You’re supposed to stay 100 feet away from the ponies, but my brother and I got closer to take pictures for our father. The lack of restrooms (or any other sign of civilization) on the island made me feel anxious and claustrophobic. My mother would have felt the same way. She died two Januarys ago. We scattered her ashes in the ocean during last year’s trip to the beach.

I helped my father into the water at the point where the sound and the ocean collide, because that’s where he wanted to enter. The sand beneath our feet was viscous and gooey, sucking us down like wet cement. My father didn’t have the strength to overcome the sand, and I didn’t have the strength to hold him upright. He fell slowly, like an imploded building, as the suck and pull burrowed us deeper in the sand.

After my brother and I helped him crawl to shore, we sat him in the green tailgating chair we had brought with us. I walked back into the water at the same spot. I passed the site of our earlier incident and continued out to where the water was deep enough to swim. I swam through alternating pockets of cold and warmth, farther and farther out until my father and brother looked like small feral ponies on the shore.

When I finally turned to swim back to them, I discovered that I had been swimming with the current the entire time. Now I felt the force of two separate currents conspiring to keep me. Even when I exerted all of my energy into my stroke, swimming against them was like running on a treadmill. The water was so deep that I was only able to touch the sand with my feet when I submerged myself to my eyeballs.

As I fought against the currents and gasped for air, I thought of Edna Pontellier walking naked and alone into the ocean, and I decided that the end of The Awakening is not nearly as romantic as I had first believed when I read it as a 19-year-old college student on dry land. Drowning is unsexy and demoralizing, lonely and silent.

Right before my mother stopped breathing, my father and I saw a wild white and gray cat scampering across the surface of the snow through the window of our hospice room. Then the nurse told us that it was over, that I had just lost the one person who knew me before I was one person.

I submerged to my eyes, activated every muscle, and rooted my feet into the sand. I started walking toward my family, using the strength in my legs and torso to propel myself through the cement-like sand and resist the pull of the water. When I needed air, I popped my head above the surface and drew greedy, desperate breaths, like a hanged man freed from a noose.

When I finally reached my father’s side, I collapsed on a beach towel. My brother and father said they could tell I was in trouble out there, but they didn’t know how to help me. I told them there was nothing they could have done.

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Jennifer Renee Blevins holds a BA in English and Theatre and an MA in English from Wake Forest University. She is currently a third year student in the MFA Creative Non-Fiction Writing and PhD Literature programs at the University of South Carolina, where she is also managing editor (reviews) of Modernism/modernity, the official journal of the Modernist Studies Association. She is working on her first book, Persistent Leak: My Father’s Gastric Bypass and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, which juxtaposes the concurrent disasters of the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and her father’s catastrophic gastric bypass experience.