By Patricia Gimer
“And here comes… MARILYN MONROE!” announced the shark-costumed man as Anne ran past him into the icy waves. It was her first wearing of the white, one-piece bathing suit with spaghetti straps tied behind her neck. Purchased online last summer, she thought it a little small, but intending to lose weight, chose not to return it. Today, she tried it on again. Emboldened by her daughter’s uncharacteristic endorsement, “Mom, you really look great in that suit,” Anne made the decision to try to quietly blend in with hundreds of others set on commemorating the New Year by immersing themselves in the biting cold sea. Minutes later, she would modestly cover up with the towel she’d left onshore. The shark-man’s comment was unexpected but she had to admit, a delightful distraction from the anxiety concerning what she was about to do.
Much like the woman who parachutes out of an airplane for the first time on her ninetieth birthday, at sixty-five, Anne had resolved to be more adventurous. A Polar Bear Dip novice, she intended to follow the advice of her children, “Hit the water running and don’t stop until you’re completely submerged!” but when her thighs felt the ocean’s sting, her sprint gradually slowed to a stall. Now, here she was, up to her waist in the numbingly cold waters of the Pacific, at a standstill! Trembling, she seriously questioned her judgment. What am I doing? – Am I having a major senior moment?
Anne scanned the crowd for her children. For years, they had encouraged her to join them here, but now in this throng of frolicking bodies, they were no where to be found. She was alone with her decision. The rules say you need to put your head completely under water to qualify, but… I’ve been out here too long already… I could freeze to death before I get up the nerve! She shivered violently, and tried to look composed, as others, salt water trickling across their faces, ran proudly past her back onto the beach.
Up to her armpits now, she wondered, Could being this cold, this long, possibly cause a heart attack? Would it really be so awful if I didn’t dip my head under? That was when she saw the wave. It was enormous and headed right for her! She knew in an instant there was no keeping her head dry now! With that decision clearly taken from her, all she could do was turn away, close her eyes, and brace herself.
The monster wave struck the back of Anne’s head and knocked her down hard! Tumbling uncontrollably, her mouth, nose, and ears filled with sandy-fishy-salt water. Eventually, she sprang up – sputtering, spitting grit, grateful that her tiny spaghetti straps had held, and never more exhilarated!
A woman who witnessed the whole debacle joyously sang, “Congratulations!” and handed Anne an official Polar Bear Certificate. Okay! I can check this off my bucket list! Coughing, Anne snatched up her beach towel and wrapped it tightly around her frigid body.
She pranced back to the foot of the pier where her drenched, flush-faced children stood wide-eyed. Waving her certificate, she crowed, “I did it! I finally did it!”
“Whooooo, Hooooo! Way to go, Momma!” There were high-fives and frozen-body-hugs all around. The next morning Anne awoke with the first signs of what turned into a six week, severe respiratory illness. There must have been something in the water, she mused.
“Was it worth it?” people asked.
“Would you do it again?”
“Absolutely” she smiled, “every year until my ninetieth birthday!”
Patricia Gimer, M.A., Lic. Marriage and Family Therapist has been writing because she “has to” for as long she can remember. She has previously been published by Simply Clear Media and Marketing, Central Coast Kind Magazine, Solo Press, and The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. Patricia is a member of SLO NightWriters, for writers at every level in every genre. Find them online at slonightwriters.org.