Saved by a Skirt

By Erika Hoffman

Saved by a Skirt

I’m of an age when I prefer buying bathing suits with a skirt. If I do purchase a one piece minus the extra material, I then get the skirt accessory. I never swim without my skirt.

On June 5, 2010, I suggested a break from scouring the stove at our beach cottage. The cleansing is an annual ritual before the upcoming rental season. “Just a short swim,” I proposed. Reluctantly, my husband traipsed after me. He and I had been short with each other earlier. When I sauntered into the water, he stood only calf deep. “Come on! It’s not cold if you immerse yourself!,” I urged. I was already paddling about in the gentle waves. A few young kids frolicked shin-deep up the beach; two muscular young men tanned near a tarp; white lawn chairs and an altar remained from earlier nuptials. Still, at five o clock the beach was mostly deserted of people.

We floated ten feet from shore when I realized I was over my head and asked my husband if he could touch bottom.


I started the breast stroke. I made no headway. I began an Australian crawl. The undertow pulled me further out. I exerted. I strained. I thrust myself forward. I went nowhere.

“Hold on to me!” I yelled.

My husband reached for my fingers, but the waves pushed us apart.

“Swim in with the next wave,” he answered.

We both tried. Like being in a vortex, we were pinned down in a current of water that tugged us backwards. Though a short distance to the beach, it might as well have been miles. We were losing the battle. By sheer will power, I tried to propel myself through the salty sea. I was weak. I couldn’t stay up anymore. I couldn’t even float. “I can’t make it,” I said.

“Help!” yelled my husband with anxiousness in his eyes. He began waving his arms, crossing them. “Help!” he cried out, scanning the shore.

No one heard him. No one was in sight. We bobbed helplessly with our heads barely above water. In the pit of my stomach, I knew it was over. I thought of our kids. I thought of the headlines. I thought how we’d die here a stone’s throw from shore. I’ve never been afraid of the water. I’ve particularly loved the ocean since a kid riding the surf at Lavallette, N.J. I’ve always dreamed of owning a beach house within view of breakers. A year ago we bought it. Perfect.

Drowning is frightening. He was in trouble and should leave me and try to make it on his own.

“I can’t go on. I can’t,” I murmured. He looked worried and was still an arm’s length from me. He grabbed for my fingertips but couldn’t hold them. With the last touch of our hands, hands that touched for 40 years, I knew we were goners. My life was finished; so was his. I felt sad. A swell pushed him in a little. His toe hit sand. He turned sideways, watching me retreat. I strained toward him. He reached back and grabbed my skirt. The wave relentlessly tugged me out. He clutched that scrap of fabric and struggled forward.

“I’m too tired,” he said.

“Don’t let go.”

He thrust on. A wave pulled me back. He stayed put and then lurched forward. I floated buoyant again with no feet anchoring me. The skirt’s stretchy material tautened. He yanked my skirt. My toes scraped land; it was a steep incline with a big drop off. I feared I’d fall back into the hollowed out caldera and into the rip current. Too weak to stand, I crawled.

He lay with waves smacking over him. I clawed the sand and collapsed. “Where’s help?” I thought. I couldn’t lift my head. I couldn’t turn. My frontal lobe over my right eye pounded. I lay inert, lifeless as a corpse, limp as a dead fish.


No answer. I dozed off. I woke to a noisy machine and lifted my chin to spy a dune buggy with a life guard bolting up the coast much closer to the houses than to the sea where we lay, like detritus washed up after a storm.

“You okay?” I asked the wind. He wasn’t as high on the bank and still submerged.

“My heart is racing.”

“Someone will come.”

No one came. I have no concept of the time that passed. We were just like castaways portrayed in movies, enervated from fighting the relentless sea. Stillness enveloped me. I heard a dog bark.

“Can you move?” I asked.

“Let me stay here awhile.”

We lay still. My mind couldn’t grasp we hadn’t died. Nothing was different about the sea that day. Nothing gave us pause. No red flags to warn that our little dip would turn into an epic struggle for survival.

We headed to the bench where we’d deposited our towels and flip flops a lifetime ago; a couple there asked us how we were.

“We almost drowned,” I said.

The guy smiled and then realized we were sincere.

“I saw you lying at the water’s edge. I didn’t know you were in trouble,” he said.

“The wind kept people from hearing us,” I said.

“A father and son got in trouble by the pier this weekend. A surfer gave them his board. He saved their lives, but he drowned.”

“My husband saved my life.”

Tranquility has settled over me. I am on borrowed time. Besides the throbbing headache and the sore lateral muscles, what have I taken away from my brush with death?

I learned I love my husband. I learned he loves me. I learned how uncertain the future is. I was doomed and am reborn. If ever a cross word forms on my lips directed at my spouse, I will take out that black stretched-out skirt and hold it and remember. And, I will thank him again and again for not letting go.

Editor’s note: After this submission, Erika began feeling much worse and, upon seeking medical attention, discovered she had suffered a stroke as a result of her experience. Luckily, it was caught in time, and she is now recovering at home.

About this writer

  • Erika Hoffman Erika Hoffman views most travel experiences as educational experiences and sometimes the lessons learned are revelations about oneself.

You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave your mark with style

Comment in style

Stand out from the crowd and add some flare beside your comment.
Get your free Gravatar today!

Make it personal

avatar versus gravatar Close