Conclusion of The Spider Cruise
I let out a sigh of relief as I guided the cabin cruiser to the dock; I could hear Mrs. C. pounding fewer spiders in the back of the boat. We’d been boating on Flathead Lake for less than an hour and it had been a horrid experience. Now our dreadful spider cruise was coming to an end.
I nearly rammed the dock in my hurry to get my family back on land. I shut off the engine and dashed to find my wife. She looked dazed and exhausted, a circle of pasty spider goo surrounding her. Little CJ was still strapped in his car seat and sucking his thumb contentedly, oblivious to what had happened.
I reached for the car seat while Mrs. C. scraped spider guts from her shoes and returned them to her feet. We both sighed with relief as we left the boat. I stepped onto the dock and started walking in the direction of our Fairmont. An opening appeared in the dock. Had I given it any thought I might have guessed the dock was undergoing repairs; a temporary plank had been installed on the water to cross the opening. I stepped onto it and froze before taking a second step. My stomach flipped over when I noticed I was, ever so slowly, moving.
In my hurry to end what had already been a dreadful experience, I’d failed to notice that we weren’t at the spot where we’d departed. Although we’d returned to the bay at the little town of Polson, I’d driven the boat to the wrong side of the harbor. My eyes now fixed on my surroundings with surreal clarity. The dock was a dilapidated wreck. Had I been able to turn around I’d have seen a sign mocking me with bright red letters:
DANGER: DOCK UNSAFE
I’d have the rest of my life to consider my blunder, but at that moment my mind was elsewhere. The plank beneath my feet hadn’t been attached to anything, had merely floated over to the decrepit dock. I was slowly drifting into deeper water, and the plank I was balanced on was slowly sinking beneath my weight.
I can still recall the icy coldness of the water as it filled my shoes. CJ blew a few spit bubbles and giggled. As I contemplated the plunge we were about to take, I regretted our decision to buy CJ the best car seat on the market. CJ was strapped into it like Houdini in a straight jacket, a straight jacket heavy as an anchor.
My swimming skills were modest and the water was about ten feet deep, but it wasn’t the depth that troubled me. The bottom of the harbor was covered with sediment that puffed into little clouds when small fish swam by. What if I lost my grip on CJ when we tipped into the water? What if I couldn’t find him in the cloud of sediment that rose up when we plunged to the bottom? How long could a ten month old baby survive underwater strapped into a heavy car seat? Not long.
I’d never felt so helpless. My heart felt like a block of dry ice; a burning chill radiated through me. I couldn’t twist or turn without lurching toward the water. I couldn’t step forward or backward because the plank was now completely submerged and I was terrified I’d lose my footing. I’d only been a parent for ten months and my foolishness was already jeopardizing my son’s life. I’d entered the hell that only a parent can know.
I felt a gentle tap on my back. I ignored it. Another. Mrs. C., in an astonishing moment of clarity and quick-thinking, hadn’t panicked at the sight of her baby about to plunge to the bottom of the harbor. In a nano moment she’d assessed the situation and figured out what needed to be done. In a pile of debris on the dock, she’d spotted a discarded oar. She was poking me in the back with it. Her voice was calm as she said, “Don’t try to turn around, reach behind you and grasp it. I’ll pull you back!”
The knuckles on my hands were white while grasping the car seat, but I cautiously released a hand and reached for the oar. I’d only drifted about five or six feet from the dock, but the water was now up to my knees. Mrs. C. resisted the temptation to pull hard; reversing direction too quickly might have capsized us. She pulled slowly and methodically, and when I was close enough I plunked down in a seated position on the dock wobbling beneath us. I handed Mrs. C. the baby seat and we quickly scurried off the rickety dock, back into the spider boat for a hop over to the proper dock.
I beat myself up for years, wondering how I could be so stupid as to grab our son and step out of a boat without bothering to look where I was going. Mrs. C. and I didn’t discuss the incident when we returned home. Thirty years later, we still haven’t.