THEN: I entered the ocean to bodysurf at exactly 9:03 a.m. I remember, as I wanted to get to work by 10:30. But half an hour later it didn't matter, because nothing would ever be the same again.
The sky was shot with brilliance as if the sun would take over the universe. The sea was turquoise blue. That was my first sign. I should have realized, as the waters of San Francisco are jade. The second sign was the warm water. But with the combination of light offshore breezes, the piercing, gold sunlight and glorious water, I thought how lucky I was to be alive in that moment.
The three to five foot waves rocked me as the swell picked up. An unusual shoulder muscled its way to the beach and I smiled to myself when I saw it's swift, steep drop. That was my last smile. Bigger sets started to come in and I backed out to avoid the slamming shorebreak. I wiggled into a tube that opened up so large I panicked at the distance below me. Suddenly, a lot of water swept me into a swift current, with surfers looking as terrified as I was feeling. I tried to swim parallel to shore searching for a channel back to the beach. But I was whipped outside, instantly, in a thick river of current slicing through huge waves.
I saw a small fishing boat not fifty feet away through bubbling water making noises I'd never heard. I tried to get to the boat, but the thickness of the maddened waters held me captive in my orbit. Looking back now, I see I was caught in the outgoing current of the Golden Gate as earthquakes crumbled the coast. We watched the bridge fall into the sea, cliffs collapse. At one point, we were raised up like a bucking river and I saw the waves had torn a chunk out of the city. Ducking logs, debris, untangling seaweed pods that clumped in the outgoing rip, it took all my energy to stay afloat. I realized the sun was low. With one horrendous movement in terror of the darkening sea I clawed my way onto the deck of the boat where an old fisherman laid face down, hugging the deck. I could not speak, and as it turned out, he has remained mute. We were beaten by waves, bruised, sick, cold, unable to eat or take care of ourselves, adrift for days. I was dependent on the fisherman's boat skills and did what he showed me to do. For a long time the fisherman and I rested on an island until a group of people drove us off. And then the sea, relentless as ever, carried us in currents we were helpless to understand.
Tsunamis ripped the coasts from continents. Quakes, tremblers, volcanic eruptions and earth-fires savaged the planet, rewriting geography. With governments disabled, temporary coalitions transmitted information, and communicated rescue operations. Small armies still prowled central Russia, Asia, Africa. Groups like these hired us at first, to reclaim loot from waters. Later private citizens employed us. Already driven halfway around the world by quake-crazed currents we continued to Africa, where veins of diamonds and gold had broken open. This ship captain is paying us in gold and gems.
NOW: It is one of those red-smoked evenings when each event seems weighted and connected by a separate mystery. The sky a smear of pink to orange to blood, the shore growing sullen shadows. "You loved him really, Ulysses," I hear one slave tease another from the captain's boat. We are anchored off the west side of a hostile island... beneath the hanging terraced gardens of pirate plantations built into jagged cliffs... I can hear peacocks scream, music wail, women laugh. I smell jasmine, ginger and smoke. Greasy torches and incense thicken the dusk, wrapping me in my thoughts.
I talked with the captain, who is, I think, more dangerous than the shark he warns me about. He said the last diver eventually returned, his bones twisted in his ropes. Below me, four ships lay wrecked on the shallow reef off quake-splintered Madagascar. One of them is broken open, easy access to anyone who can swim a pool's length. But not now with this fear of water and the loss of ocean swimmers in the quakes that ripped shores from continents. The captain agrees to pay me too well, too quickly. Maybe he won't let me back on board when I've found what he wants from the sunken ships below, stolen goods sunk in the year-long earthquakes. The captain knows more than I thought, including where things are packed. He explained the dive to me at sunset, his sun-creased skin like a net of shadows to catch his lies. He showed me photos another diver took, but who would not return. He had a worn architect's plan of one ship's interior, a hand-written packing list copy, and several hand-drawn maps.
THIS MORNING: I awake from dreams of magic, gently putting water on the iguana as he rolls over for me, matching pale white shell bracelets that finally come together on one arm and the heavens open. I dive from the boat, the only one, of people who cannot swim and are partying, but about to die. I see that sadly, but cannot tell them anything as they do not listen. And I know that danger is cold.
The dream haunts me. I lie in a bed, hung with citron silk, carved with inlaid mother-of-pearl sea goddesses writhing in ebony waves. Sun slices indigo sea, wind whispers in plantation palms. Low tide, lapping waves, no current. I finish stretching and look into the turning sapphire deep, where, swimming in tight circles, the shark is a twisting shadow stirring memories from before. I push them away and prepare for this dive.