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Life on a String

Well this column has taken me 5 days to process, as the cause of it was probably one of the worst experiences of my life.  Now on my fourth Margarita, safely tucked away in my hillside home, I have finally found the courage to pen my thoughts, without crying, too much.

On Tuesday last I decided to visit the quaint seaside surfing village of Sayulita, Mexico.  This trip was a long time coming, I have visited Puerto Vallarta many times before, but had never had the time to visit Sayulita. It was an eventful trip to say the least.

I joined some new friends on the public bus out of Nuevo Vallarta for the hour plus trip to Sayulita. Nothing truly remarkable about the trip, other than being propositioned by a “free-lance” cab driver that assured us that he was going to Sayulita, and that he could do the trip faster and cheaper than the bus. Really? Cheaper than $1.80? My companions and I suspected a kidnap plot. We said no to the offer. Aside from the two hundred makeshift graves along the route, the trip went well, and was somewhat scenic.

Sayulita welcomed us with pleasant weather, a calm cooling breeze, and native people who were extremely nice, despite being overrun by caucasians wearing dreadlocks, and spending their trust fund money on the local goods and services. Lunch consisted of tostadas of tuna and octopus form a local roll-up store front woman who had two cute twin girls, who for the life of me actually looked just like Dora La Exploradora, inclusive of the bobbed haircuts.

The women in the group broke from myself and the other man accompanying them to do some shopping, Matthew and I set out to see the other sites,  visit the local land broker, and attempt to find the 500 ml container of tequila for $1.50 that we had heard rumor of. We found the tequila at Oxxo, didn’t buy any land. We then headed to the beach at the appointed hour to meet our companions.

Sayulita beach is near perfect, beautiful sand, a picturesque crescent bay augmented by open air pallapa homes overlooking the fun and surf. Budget Hotels, bars and a campground line the beach. Outside of the campground is where we parked ourselves in the warm sand, three swigs of uber cheap tequila and we were all in the water, floating, bobbing aimlessly, and chatting with the surfers and waders. It was there I spoke to the man and his family from Seattle.

He was a good man, and a good father, warning his youngest to take care in the waves, this six year old dutifully followed his father’s orders. The older boy, about 13, was being coached by the father about swimming and catching a prime body surfing wave. The mom, a chubby women of equal age to the father, watched from wading depth approvingly of the father’s interaction with the boys. This man was a good man, his family loved him.

I was getting a little cold, so I exited the water for the safety and comfort of the shore and our budget tequila.  I was drying off when I saw the father of the boys launch himself into the water with what appeared to be a painful dive, I said to myself, ‘that looks like it hurt’.  I turned around for a minute, only a brief turn, then a curdling scream was hurd from the mother of the boys. There in the surf lay the father, contorted like a jellyfish, limbs akimbo, head tucked below his body. I ran to him, another man ran as well. We both looked at each other and knew immediately this was not a good situation at all. We pulled him out of the water and up the beach 20 feet.

In another life I was a lifeguard, having saved nothing other than two children who went under quickly, and a parrot from a mote at the amusement park I worked in. This was a long time ago.

Because no one was around the other fellow and I knew something had to be done, we checked his pulse, and whether or not he could feel his limbs, he had a pulse, he couldn’t feel his feet, hands or body. His breathing was shallow and difficult. His wife was so distraught, and wracked his head back and forth so much, we had to pull her off for fear of more damage to his system.  Now his breathing stopped.

Thankfully others had joined our efforts to help the man by now, several others apparently had some training in CPR as well, we began to perform CPR.

As I breathed into his mouth, his whiskers brushed mine, his eyes began to dilate heavily and he began to turn gray-blue. I was looking into his eyes the whole time, this vision will not leave me, even now. He threw up in my mouth, this I expected as I had been taught it would happen. His two boys sat, distressed and crying 10 feet from our efforts, this sight too will not leave me in peace.

After 10 minutes, he still had a pulse, and a surfer arrived who was a paramedic, he took control of the situation, and he did it effectively and calmly. God bless this guy for his nerve and temperament. If this father  was going to live it was really because of this red haired surfer.

It took 15 more minutes for the Federales to show up with a local hotel first aid team, the Federales were worthless! They can carry a gun, but caring about human life is something they could give a shit about. Five more minutes passed and the ambulance finally arrived, five more minutes and the ambulance left, with lights and siren on. This was a good sign because it meant the man was still alive, at least for now.

My women companions were crying, Matthew was in shock.  Matthew explained later it was because his brother had been murdered three years prior in Venezuela, and he had pushed it to the back of his mind, and this brought it all back.  The trip back to Nuevo Vallarta was quiet and solemn. We got very drunk that night, but the alcohol didn’t help, it made the whole thing more poignant and difficult to deal with.

I still don’t know if this father, this good man, lived through the night, I pray he did. I worry about his quality of life after this incident. Quality is probably the wrong word, because if he is indeed completely paralyzed, is that quality of life?

The next morning, and all through the day I was sick and in shock. I swam laps for three hours, I cried for two of those hours. I wanted to go home to my family, to be a good man, to be a good father to my daughter. For as I found out that day on the beach in Sayulita, life is a string, a string that can be broken in a second.

Posted on May 22, 2010

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