It was during my turn to sleep on the third evening that Brad woke me, sounding urgently concerned about something. I sat up, and Brad pointed. John and Mark were leaning out over the side, drinking sea water. I felt my heart fill with pity for them. They had discovered the emptiness at the inner core of their selves, the lack of hope, the inability to see what’s possible, and they’d given up.
The sea has twice as much salt as the human body can tolerate. As it gets into your system, it causes your cells to explode. Your kidneys try to get rid of it, but they’re quickly overwhelmed. And it causes global malfunctions of the neurons in the brain.
They were doomed. I knew they were going to die, I just didn’t know yet how terrible their deaths would be.
In a way, I think seeing them give up strengthened my own resolve to hold on. Thirst begins as an urge, a need, a want, but after a while it becomes and all-consuming passion, then an incandescent pain that begins in the nose and mouth and eyes and spreads to consume the whole body. Baked by the sun in the day, frozen by the withering wind and sea at night, parts of my body that once seemed to have no sensation at all now seemed capable of feeling the most exquisite pain. In that condition, it’s easy to wish for death, to accept it not only as inevitable but as natural, appropriate, even desirable.
Yet I kept telling myself that would not fall apart, no matter what. I prayed and prayed to the God I had always known was with me, watching over me. I tried to be careful about what I prayed for, careful not to make extravagant promises. And when the worst fears gripped me, when I thought I was losing my mind, I would say the Lord’s Prayer over and over. As long as I could remember the words and say them, I felt, at least I knew I was still here.
Poisoning yourself with salt doesn’t take long to have its effects. In the early afternoon of the next day, Mark’s mind snapped. He began searching around in the bottom of the boat, saying that he’d lost his cigarettes. He claimed that he’d just bought beer and cigarettes at a convenience store and somebody had stolen them. John was losing his mind at about the same rate.
When Mark asked him if he wanted a cigarette, an utterly mad conversation ensued that only two people out of their minds could have had.
John said, “Sure, you got any?”
“Under the seaweed,” Mark said.
“I got some sandwiches,” John said, “You want one?”
Then John began searching through the seaweed, hollering, “Okay, where are they? I know they were here.”
Mark screamed at me, “Where are my bloody fags? I know you took them.” Then the two of them suddenly collapsed like marionettes with their strings cut, and they sat slumped in a daze.
Sometime after that I awoke, having fallen asleep, too. Then John woke and started talking with Meg about flying home on a plane after we were rescued, and, for a moment, it seemed that he had recovered his senses. But just as suddenly, his conversation veered off again into madness.
“I’m just going to go get the car,” he told Meg. “We’re just off Falmouth. I know right where the car is. I’ll go get it. You guys bring the boat in and I’ll get the car. Then we can unload.” He sounded so reasonable I had to ask myself if he was right…The whole experience for days now had had such an air of unreality that it was very easy to begin believing that it wasn’t real. I closed my eyes to focus my thoughts, and, when I opened tem again, John was going over the side. I screamed at him, and just said, “I’ll be back in a few,” as calmly as if he really were going to get the car. The sun was going down and the water was teeming with sharks. As John hung on the side, I was overwhelmed with a sense of unreality. Brad and I tried to talk him out of it, but john responded by saying, “I can’t take this anymore, I’m going to get the car.” And then he swam away.
As we watched John appearing and disappearing amid the swells, we heard his horrible screaming commence as the sharks attacked him. And then all was silent once more. Meg began weeping pathetically. Mark didn’t even react….
Later that night, Mark followed John into oblivion. First in an obviously delusional state, he tried to have sex with Meg. When she began whimpering, he flew into a rage, screaming, “F%&^ you. F%&^ you. I’m tired of playing games. I’m going back to the 7-Eleven to get some cigarettes.” Then he, too, went over the side. He moved hand over hand toward the bow and then disappeared.
A stillness settled over the boat and seemed to spread out to include the entire ocean. Then it was as if the world had exploded. Something rammed the Zodiac from below and spun it completely around. It felt like we’d been in a car wreck. Another solid blow, another spin, and the bow lifted high out of the water and crashed back down. Brad and I threw ourselves to the bottom of the boat and cowered there, holding each other, trembling and praying. We knew what was happening: The sharks were eating Mark beneath the boat and would soon tear the Zodiac apart to get at us…I began to have dangerous thoughts: Why not just jump in and get it over with? What’s the point of holding out and suffering? You’re going to die anyway?”