Sara

My phone kept going off while I was working at Starbucks. During a free moment, I checked and saw my mom’s number. I answered and asked her what she wanted, reminding her I was at work.

My mom was crying hysterically. All I heard was, “He’s gone, he’s gone, he’s dead,” before the line cut off. I called her back and still couldn’t understand anything else.

Is my dad dead in the boat? Is she making this up? Are they in the water?

I grabbed my coworker, Mercedes, and explained the situation to her before calling 911, but all they told me was I would be receiving a call in fifteen minutes.

I went to my supervisor crying and told her I needed to leave. We went to the HR lady, Mercedes still with me, and my HR called 911 in an attempt to figure out what was happening.

They gave her the information. I don’t remember why. Maybe because I was already a mess.

It’s all a blur.

She told me, “He’s been underwater for about fifteen to thirty minutes. The EMTs and Care Flight are there. They want you to come up.”

It hit me, he’s drowning. I screamed, crying harder than before.

Mercedes called my boyfriend and he came to pick us up.

Before he arrived, I was walking down the aisle of Target sobbing. In my head, I recognized everyone around had no idea what was happening.

My HR told me to get into his car and pray because things could turn around, but I thought no, he’s be under for thirty minutes. Even from studying basic anatomy I knew you couldn’t survive that long without oxygen.

We were going 90mph on Pyramid highway and passed a cop, but they knew to expect my boyfriend’s car and didn’t pull us over.

I remember the entire time I was crying. They had Mercedes’ phone number to give updates to because it was going to take an hour for us to get there.

At this point my boyfriend and I had only been in a relationship for a month. I didn’t even think he was going to come for me. I didn’t think we were ‘at that point.’

I didn’t want him to see me in pain because we hadn’t experienced that before.

I kept saying, “This can’t be real,” over and over again. I couldn’t believe it was happening. They had the wrong person.

During the drive, Mercedes got a phone call, my mom crying about something. The look on her face told me everything.

She hung up the phone and said, “Sara, you need to look for me. They are no longer considering it a rescue mission.”

More crying.

I had never been to Pyramid Lake before. When we came over the hill and I saw it, all I could think was, “This is the lake that took him.” The day was windy and the lake looked horrible.

Even now, whenever I’m in his car and it’s windy, it reminds me of that time.

We pulled up to the dock and I saw ambulances, Care Flight, and boats across the water. There were so many people. I screamed again, hurt a few ears, and continued to freak out.

A cop approached the car and talked to my boyfriend while I got out. My mom was coming towards me, but all I felt was rage. Why didn’t you do anything to save him? This is all your fault! Why didn’t you throw him something, turn the boat around?

I told the paramedics I didn’t want to be around her, that I would never forgive her.

I was mad at her for a really long time. I didn’t get over it for a couple months before I finally realized she panicked and can’t swim. She didn’t know how to operate the boat.

She told me my dad kept saying put it in reverse, you need to hurry. But she couldn’t and it haunts her.

Back to the lake, they were still looking for him. Trying to figure out where he went in. They found his ball cap.

Time goes on, I remember I was cold. My boyfriend found a blanket for me.

I walked down the beach and sat on a rock, looking out at the lake. I saw my dad’s boat in the sand and kept wondering how he fell off.

It got dark and they needed to call off the search. An older paramedic told my mom and I to get used to this, that it’s now just the two of us and we need to take care of each other.

A woman asked my mother if she could sing her a prayer song in her native language. It was beautiful. What a way to help someone in tragedy.

I still think about that for my nursing career. It was so peaceful.

We were getting up, planning to go back to the house. I asked a police officer to drive my mother back because I couldn’t handle being in the same car with her.

At this point, six hours have passed. I got the call around 2pm and it was 8pm by the time we were leaving.

I was starving. I asked for a granola bar, took a bite, and threw up all over the car because of the stress. Thankfully my boyfriend had weather resistant mats so it was easily washed.

Coming back to my house, I knew it was all different. My dad’s flipflops were still by the door, the ones he refused to get rid of. I was greeted by my mother and a TIPS woman. My mom didn’t want anyone involved, but I did, so she was sent over to help us process the situation. We sat at the fancy dinning room table that we never sit at and she began walking me through the stages of grief.

I told her I had been suicidal since I started college because of grades, stressing out about nursing acceptance, etc. My mom hadn’t known. I never tried to do anything, but she gave me the suicide prevention hotline number and told me to call if I ever had thoughts again.

I can’t imagine working in her position. She was really helpful, despite the shock I was experiencing.

I put my mom to bed, but I couldn’t sleep the entire night. All I had were images of my dad drowning in the water.

I didn’t sleep that first week.

My mom kept coming upstairs to me and crying. She asked how are we going to live, how are we going to do this.

I had to put big girl pants on to help her handle it.  I remember telling her we will find a way to get through this.

We didn’t get along for a while after the incident.

She told me he was reeling in a fish, said I got one!, stood up, and suddenly went face first into the water. It looked like the fish was pulling him. Within a minute she couldn’t see him. They think it was something related to his heart disease. As a Navy officer, I couldn’t imagine how he drowned.

The second day we went back to Target to get my car. Waking up that morning all I could think about was how yesterday morning my parents were getting ready to go fishing and I was still in my bed. I should have gotten up to say good morning. I didn’t see him at all that day.

After, we went to pick up the boat and her car, but the police needed to keep the boat to make sure there was no foul play. There, I talked for a good forty minutes with this police officer. I just wanted unfiltered answers. I wanted to know about the search. He told me what their plan was, that they couldn’t go out because of the weather, and I talked to him about my dad. The police officer said he was from the navy as well.

I asked, “How are you guys going to find him? What happens if you don’t?”

Apparently, by this time, the body should bloat up and it will float to the surface. Sometimes the body will be at the south end, sometimes they never find it. Sometimes they will find their skull fourteen years later.

He said, “I know you are going through a hard time. You’re not the only one who has lost people at this lake. If we don’t find him, consider that he will be part of something beautiful.”

He knew exactly how to talk to me. Genuine, real.

To this day, we are now family friends. It’s funny how had this never have happened, I would have never met that police officer who is now so important to us.

One night, when I felt especially awful, my boyfriend told me he loved me. All I said was I know. It took me a while to say the words back, but from that point, I knew he was the one. He’s gone through this all with me.

The whole fiasco drew out for so long, but I only missed one week of school because I didn’t want to fall behind. Every day I would sit in class and wonder when they would find him.

I kept hoping for a miracle. Maybe he swam to shore, camped out, and will come home.

I soon realized how unrealistic it was though. I was bargaining.

Two months after the incident, I got home from work and my driveway was blocked by a police car. I panicked, assuming now something happened to my mother!

Kieth, the police officer, tells me they’ve found him. His body. He said they did a special mission, took divers super far and were using a Doppler system. It was the biggest relief. I didn’t have to wonder anymore. We could close this chapter.

The coroner was there and said we could come see the body, but the next day they wouldn’t let us see him, his condition wasn’t good to view.

I was enraged. What constitutes a stranger being able to see him and not me! Everyone around me thought it was a good idea, that it wouldn’t be my last memory of him.

I have so may visualizations of what he looked like.

Ultimately, I’m glad they didn’t let me.

July we finally put his ashes at the Veteran’s cemetery. It was so sad. My mom and I were walking to the plot and it was just this little shoe box size hole in the ground. I started crying.

It’s a hole in the ground. That’s where you go, a hole.

So we put a part of the ashes, a hat, and a tennis ball in. I’m glad they found him and we have a place to visit him.

My mom told me he didn’t want to be buried because he was afraid people wouldn’t visit him, but I’m always going to. He took me to his dad’s grave and now I can do that with my kids.

This all resulted in a diagnosis of anxiety. I started fearing dying randomly, had panic attacks, and would stay up all night. What if I die in my sleep?

I was given proper medication soon after and it helped.

We were always in different phases of grieving. I was good after they found his body, I knew there was nothing we could do about it, whereas she could not take care of herself, she didn’t want me to leave the house, but I needed to live my life.

My mom didn’t understand my fear of dying for a while, but eventually she went to her doctor and got on antidepressants. It seems to be helping her too.

Now, I’m doing so much better. I have anxiety from school, but it’s not as bad. It’s not a crippling fear that I’m going to die, more a fear of failing tests.

When I started nursing school, I knew my dad would come up, but it’s easier to explain that now. I’ve had closure.

I learned to never be upset with someone for too long because the last conversation I had with my dad was an argument, and now he’s gone.

I am thankful for my boyfriend’s angry pout or his tomato face, warm electric blankets, Victoria’s Secret, whenever I get a 75 on any of my tests in nursing school, little study get-togethers with my friends, when toddlers smile at you, anyone that has a passion for nursing, snuggling, burritoing myself in blankets, when I write the perfect letter in the alphabet, and my mama.

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