Happy #CanadaDay2015 Fellow Canadians

I wrote a short story to honour #CanadaDay2015. Hope you like it:


            Be careful what you wish for, a phrase I told our son Stephen time and again. I had never stopped to realize just how profound this string of words could be.

The most exciting event for our young family was the purchase of a twenty-six foot sailboat. It was a 1978 Hughes with spacious quarters, galley, and a six-foot two-inch headroom.

It was a big old boat and we all agreed – we loved it. In fact, we named her Mahalo after one of our trips to Hawaii. Mahalo means thank you or hello depending on the conversation.

However, one day after sailing with gusty winds and a precarious attempt at docking, it didn’t take long before I said to my husband, “Wow. I know it was quite rough out there, Jeff,  but you didn’t have to bark orders at us! I mean really.”

Looking wounded, Jeff replied, “What did you expect me to do?  Things happen so fast on Lake Huron.  It’s so open and unprotected.  We have to respond right away.  Sorry, I did my best and I didn’t mean to take it out on the two of you.”

Jeff walked towards the mast, shoulders slumped. He lowered the mainsail and fastidiously put its royal blue cover on.

Exit, stage left. Stephen and I grabbed our towels and life jackets as we crawled into our Zodiac (an inflatable rubber dinghy) which was attached to the stern of the boat, our bow facing the dock. Sailing always made the two of us tired. We nestled in until we were comfortable and fell asleep with the sun on our faces, mesmerized by the sound of the gently rolling waves.

Awakening with a panicked feeling, it took me a few moments before I realized the Zodiac was rocking wildly back and forth. I looked in the direction of Stephen, but could barely see his outline.  I could not believe it was so dark  nor could I process the danger we were in…until I realized we were in open water. A distant light to the starboard side seemed a million miles away, on shore. Trying to remain calm, I could not stop thinking, Where are we?  What have I done?

Just then, Stephen awoke and said sleepily, “Where are we, Mom?”

I didn’t respond right away. “We’re somewhere…on the water.”

My heart pounded rapidly. I had to talk myself down and gain control of my thoughts.  My head hurt, it was cold, and most of all, I regretted the last thought I had on my mind before I fell asleep. I wanted to be far away from Jeff.

Fast and furiously we tried to paddle to shore. It seemed as if we were going in circles and I realized our efforts were wasted. I suggested to Stephen that he save his energy. It was 11:03 p.m. on my Indiglo watch and I gave into my exhaustion. When I awoke, the sky was overcast. There was no full moon to guide us tonight.

Suddenly, I heard three loud blasts echoing across the water. Random thoughts raced through my mind. What did Jeff say they meant? A freighter is coming? Where’s the freighter? My skin crawled. I could hear a whisper on the water, faint at first, then becoming louder.  My heart palpitated but I had to remain cool for my son’s sake.

Stephen stirred and I asked, “Could you sing something, anything, as loud as you can? I love to hear your voice.”

“Aww, mom. Do I have to?”

“Yes, it’ll take our mind off…things. Please, Stephen.”

Okay,”  he agreed sounding a bit confused. And out of the mouths of babes came the sweetest voice singing It’s my Life by Bon Jovi.

I searched the water for signs of where we were…a familiar buoy, a rock, something. Four foot swells moved us all about. Stephen stopped singing as he pulled a small glow-in-the-dark July 1st flag from his pocket. It crossed my mind, What good would the Canadian flag do for us, now?

“I’m so sorry for getting you into this situation, dear,” I said, my voice cracking.

“No, mom, it’s not your fault.  We climbed into this boat together, remember?”

“Still, I should’ve been more alert.” I slammed my fist against the side of the dinghy.

“I miss dad,” exclaimed Stephen.

“Me, too,” I said with a lump in my throat, my heart beating loudly.

I would have given anything to hear Jeff’s voice explaining why it’s better to do things ‘his way.’  I tried to reassure Stephen that everything was going to be okay. I had always told him our family would get through anything together, yet doubt began to creep into my mind.

Wham! Something hit us, jerking the boat around to the point of whiplash. We spun around so fast in a clockwise direction making me feel more confused at our whereabouts than ever. It was at this point, an epiphany occurred. We had floated around for hours and with the current, goodness knows where we were. I heard a familiar sound of whooshing and noticed the Zodiac was losing air. I felt sick to my stomach but mustered the courage to feel the patch on the stern of the boat. It had become unglued, or worse yet, punctured. That was the moment when I realized we had to get to shore. There was no way we could wait until dawn. According to my watch, it was now 2:30  a.m. The Zodiac would be out of air by morning.

Once again, we smashed into something. Bam! The two of us were tossed about and we crashed our heads together. If that wasn’t enough, I managed to cut my hand in the process. Whatever we hit, it was razor sharp.

Instead of being afraid, a sense of calm overcame me. I wrapped a bandana around my bleeding hand and snapped into protector mode assessing our predicament. We had run up against some rocks. One was jagged, and Stephen managed to wrap a rope around it. I supported his weight so he could climb out of the Zodiac and onto the safety of the smoother rocks. I scrambled to join him. We huddled together and were elated; cold, but elated. I watched with curiousity as Stephen removed his shiny Canada Day flag from his jacket pocket. Actually, it glowed now more than ever in the darkness.

“C’mon, Stephen, let’s sing O Canada as loud as we can!”

“Oh, all right, Mom,” he agreed.

We sang together, “O Canada! Our home and native land! True patriot love in all thy sons command….”

We stopped when we heard those three blasts again, only they sounded closer this time. Stephen raised his flag, waving it wildly back and forth. A blinding light moved straight for us. We screamed and I thought our lives were over.

Then we heard the best sound ever! Jeff yelled our names frantically, “Lily, Stephen, is that you?”

Stephen and I looked at each other and bellowed in unison, “We’re here!”

Jeff had been searching for us all night. After our discussion on Mahalo, Jeff thought we had retreated below to the cabin for a nap. It wasn’t until closer to dinnertime when he called our names and there was no answer that he became panicked. We were found sitting on rocks off the American coastline, about ten miles northwest of our dock.  We had crossed the shipping channel between Canada and the United States. This would have been a disastrous situation if the Canadian Coast Guard had not found us first. I was grateful for my husband’s instincts to find us fast!

“I heard Stephen singing your favourite song, Lily, It’s My Lifefaintly. I was so worried about you…so afraid. I would search the world over for the two of you,” he stated, all choked up. “And I regretted how I spoke to you…”

“Please, forgive me, Jeff. I was impossible. You did what you had to do to get us to safety.”

We all collapsed into each other’s arms on the Canadian Coast Guard rescue boat. It was comforting to know the Coast Guard had circled around and around for hours, never giving up. Then they spied the Zodiac using binoculars and hoped it was us. As grateful as we were for these brave rescuers, it was Jeff who spied the fluorescent flag reflecting the light on and off, a tiny reflection on a pitch-black night. He confirmed it was indeed his family as Jeff had gifted the flag to Stephen.

Tears welled up in my eyes as I cupped my hands around our son’s face. “I’m so proud of you, Stephen. If it wasn’t for your flag and your singing, we may never have been found. You are my hero.”

“Thanks, Mom.” He looked into my eyes and then leaned into my shoulder.

I noticed Stephen was beaming, and then I realized – I had learned the true meaning of the words be careful what you wish for. I will never wish to be apart from Jeff, my loving husband, or my family ever again…under any circumstances! And thank goodness for Stephen; he found the small Canadian flag in his pocket. Together, they made all the difference in the world!

Happy Canada Day Everyone! 

Our favourite sailboat ever! May she RIP.

Our favourite sailboat ever! May she RIP.

Written by Lee Bice-Matheson, c2015













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