Thirsty, his throat was dry. Danny woke up sweating and his heart beat fast. The last three and a half years had not exactly been good for his sleep. The tiny bed space would make it even more uncomfortable. The only advantage was that his colleagues on the ship found his sleep patterns disturbing them as well. Because he would frequently wake up, sometimes talking in his sleep, he was given a separate bedroom and the bunk bed above him was empty.
He woke up and drank a whole glass of water in one huge gulp. Then he looked outside the tiny circular window of the room. It was 5:30 am and still dark outside and the moon glistened on the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Mississippi. He remembered an early morning around four years ago somewhere off the Greek isles. Emily slept sound next to him, her blonde hair reflecting the moonlight. He gently whispered into her ear “I love you”. She opened her eyes and mumbled, “I love you too” and closed them again.
“Will you marry me?”
It took around two seconds before Emily realised what Danny had said. Then she opened her green eyes wide and sat upright. Danny opened her fist carrying a small ring. Its silvery sheen combined with shimmer of tiny diamonds around a big white pearl in the centre in the moonlight made it look like the centerpiece of the room. For a moment they were like two kids who had accidentally found a mini-treasure, their eyes filled with excitement.
With a mischievous grin he slipped the ring on her finger and she hugged him tight. He could still feel the silk gown on his chest, her heart palpitating and her tears on his shoulders. It was perfect and he could have died of happiness.
There were tears in his eyes. It was not the first time that he had woken up from nightmares and missed Emily so much that it literally hurt somewhere in his chest. His PTSD had clearly taken a toll on him. His parents insisted he had therapy. He knew nothing would ever fill the gaping hole in his life as it had started hurting both mentally and physically. It would suffocate him, break him down. He could no longer work in the hospital.
His seniors had once been impressed by how precise and calm he was during a surgery. Neurology was not his first love but he was a bright student and loved his job. He had a career, a loving girlfriend and proud parents. He never took his enviable life for granted. He had seen way too many trauma cases with patients knowing exactly what it felt to have their life being turned upside down. As a neurosurgeon, he knew how lucky people were to be alive even after life threatening situations. And now look at him!
There were dark days, very dark and very deep. Countless sessions at the psychiatrists, he felt, just made him talk, when he did not want to. He just wanted to implode. But that one trip to the ocean’s edge changed everything.
It started with what the lifeguards would not define as life saving, they would perhaps refer to the incident as drowning. He was visiting his parents that summer. The psychiatrists were proving to be a nuisance. They say doctors are the worst patients, they were right. Danny loathed the Wednesday’s reminders for the appointments on Thursdays. This week he decided to skip and visit his parents in Oregon. He wanted to go back to the beach, maybe back to the time when all he could care about was collecting shells and going home only to chocolate brownies. Denver, Colorado had taken him away from the sea towards the Brain. He didn’t resist it, never regretted it for he had met Emily there. He was content and had all he needed.
After being discharged, his parents had insisted he live with them for a few weeks. He had denied, he didn’t want them to see him the way he knew he would be in the coming months. They had fought their battles. This was his.
He had surprised his mother on the door.
“Mom! Can I come in?”
“Yes you can my darling”, Maggie kissed him and hugged him. Margaret McDonald, blonde with green eyes reminded him of Emily and he took a deep breadth.
“And where’s the old man?”
“Daniel McDonald” his father’s voice came from behind. He looked surprised.
“Dad, you look great”
“Not bad yourself” he looked at Danny top to bottom and have him a tight and suffocating hug.
“We have to get back the muscles though, my boy”
“Can we first let him in?” Maggie interjected.
The days went by. He pretended to be fine and so did they. Maggie would make him pancakes and he would try to gulp them down.
In the evenings, he would go to the beach to see the sunset and sleep a little. Early evening was the only time he could. The sound of the waves, seem to ease his misery a bit like a thin film of ash on simmering coals.
That evening he woke up giddy. He looked at the sea. He had woken up with the feeling that someone whispered in his ear. Emily, it felt like Emily. Breathless, he let out a cry with tears swelling up in his eyes. He got up and walked towards the water. It felt cold and he kept walking. Soon his body felt numb and light and he kept going. He could feel the water rise up to his eyes and drown the tears and take them away. He didn’t wish to swim, he didn’t wish for anything. He wished for the sea to take him away too. The water filled up and floated around him and then it was quite. No sound, nothing just the cold blue water around him.
He looked up, and there was the sun, the cold setting sun, now white with dim evening brightness. The rays shimmered on the water around the sun. Peacefully he saw the white sun surrounded with the shimmering water and he remembered the moonlit night, the ring in his hands shining like the sun in the night. His treasure, their treasure, it was still there. What was he doing? He cannot throw away himself and he tried to move his limbs but he couldn’t. His limbs were numb. He panicked and tried to steer through the pain but his limbs felt heavy as iron bars. He felt suffocated and dizzy and slowly faded away.
He had woken up the next day in the local hospital, his parents petrified with Maggie crying when Danny woke up.
But Danny had woken up with hope, still sad at heart but with hope nonetheless. He did not want to die but he understood that he needed to get better, to move forward. His first love, the sea, was still there and waiting for him.