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A Million Little Pieces Of My Mind

Lost At Sea

By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 3/3/2024
Occurred: 6/9/1996
Posted: 7/9/2007
Page Views: 1285
Topics: #Metaphysics #Spirituality #FortFoster #Maine #SCUBA
A friend was killed in a tragic SCUBA mishap.

On Saturday, June 8th, 1996, I got a call from a friend, Tim. This was a very unusual call, because Tim had never before initiated a phone conversation with me. I had no way of knowing that, by that time tomorrow, he would be dead.

Tim was half of my favorite couple, Jon-and-Tim. Jon was a big, booming man, a lawyer and teacher of law at a local (New Hampshire) law school. He was as pompous and educated as he was open and kind-hearted. Tim, wiry and sexy, was not educated; he worked in landscaping and had neither interest nor desire in schooling beyond what the law had required.

The reason receiving a call from Tim was so surprising is that Tim was shy and didn't really like to speak. I think he was very aware that he was not Jon's verbal equal and so usually let Jon do all the talking. If I called them and Tim answered the phone, he normally handed it off to Jon before I could say more than, Hello!

But, this evening, Tim not only initiated the call but was positively voluble. He was calling to assure me that he and Jon would be over the next night for dinner, as I had invited them. They might be a tad late, however, as Tim was going SCUBA diving in Maine in the morning and afternoon.

I had no idea Tim knew how to SCUBA dive, I said. With that prompt, Tim went on about how he had been SCUBA diving for years; it was his passion. He was going with his best friend David, a guy he'd known since kindergarten. He described the place they were planning to go, and detailed all the safety precautions he knew to take, although I hadn't expressed any concern. For example, he said, I always carry a safety knife, even though I've never gotten tangled in anything. But it could happen. That's how safety and preparedness works.

He concluded the call with the reiterated assurance he and Jon wouldn't be too late for dinner, and hung up, leaving me with a bemused expression as I pondered the fact that Tim, especially, was one of those people who never stopped surprising me.

The next night, June 9th, I packed for the class I would be teaching the next week (my flight was leaving around 11 PM), and prepared dinner a half-hour later than I would have for our originally agreed-upon time of 6 PM. But by 8 PM I was growing annoyed and was about to call, when Jon beat me to the punch by calling me. I'm losing my mind, he said. Tim's lost at sea.

Jon says everything pontifically, and it's impossible to tell when he's kidding. I assumed he was. What, did he forget about dinner?

No, he's really lost at sea. Jon then explained that there had been a rip tide, Tim and David had become separated, and Tim was still missing. I told Jon I'd be right over.

It took a half hour, because Jon and Tim live in Penacook, NH—about thirty miles from my home in Manchester. There was still no word when I got there. Tim's brothers and sisters had been notified, and Jon's mother, but not Tim's—she was working maintenance in a building that was closed and locked, and she wouldn't answer any phones there.

By midnight it was clear that even if Tim was found alive, he'd be in bad shape from hypothermia. So I left a message to have my class, scheduled to start on Monday, postponed; and sat up with Jon until we both dropped from exhaustion.

In the morning there was still no word. Initially Jon didn't want to travel to the dive site, but I urged him to go. You'll need to see for yourself that they're doing everything they can, I told him. So I drove him to Kittery, Maine, where we met David and his fiancée, Linda, and Tim's mother Patty who had finally been contacted. We were all crying, me more than anyone. But David was a rock, incredibly capable. He explained what had happened.

They'd been diving in about fifteen feet of water, not too far from shore, when the tide changed, around 3:30 pm. The dive site, a recreational spot called Fort Foster, is advertised as having "mild currents" but, as David and Tim found out, when the tide changes it develops the second swiftest current in the world! The divers found themselves being pulled along; David signaled for them to rise. They did. Tim was about five feet behind David, as he should be. David tried to fight the current to return to shore and found he couldn't do it; so he dropped his weight belt and set his sights on an outcropping a little further into the harbor. When he reached it, he looked for Tim and saw him about thirty-five feet away, being swept past the promontory. David shrugged out of his tank to run for help. When he looked again, Tim was gone.

The first other party of divers David came upon, happened to be a training session for search and rescue; they immediately started looking for Tim. The Coast Guard brought in a helicopter, and, as the minutes passed, boats were brought in. Over the next four hours, the harbor was combed as thoroughly as humanly possible—but there was no trace of Tim, nor of any of his equipment.

The most terrifying piece of information: When David returned to Tim's truck, he discovered Tim had inexplicably left his safety knife behind on the seat.

We drove out to the dive site and split up. Jon and I took the beach from which Tim and David had originally entered the water. We stood there in the morning fog: Small rocks sloped down toward the water, where three great granite ledges, each the size of a city block, and each covered with seaweed, jutted into the harbor. Faintly through the fog we could make out the outline of a lighthouse on an island in the middle of the bay, and the air was cut by the continuing blasts of foghorns as ships in the harbor struggled to avoid crashing into each other.

For the first time, Jon began to sob. I can't believe this, he said, shaking. I can't believe I'd lose my lover like this. What will I do?

We'll look for him, I said. then, when we find him, you can decide what to do. I walked in my Tivas down to the ledges, and found the seaweed covering them too slippery; so I waded up to my hips alongside them in the fifty-degree water. The ledges were broken into great blocks, with many irregularities, any of which could hide a body…or a surviving diver. But I could find no trace.

That afternoon we talked with the police, and with the Maine Marine Patrol which was in charge of the search. They wanted to put up a plane, but the fog was too thick. So we waited. I managed to get Jon to eat something.

Tim's mother had to return home. Actually, she was handling things pretty well. She hugged Jon and they both cried. Before he met Jon, Tim had been a pretty self-destructive guy, drinking heavily, getting stoned daily, and driving recklessly—he'd even been in a one-car crash that left him in a coma for a few days. I know how you loved Tim, his mother told Jon. You turned his life around, and I'll always be grateful.

That night Jon and I stayed with David and Linda in the motel room David had rented. In the morning, I decided to try something psychic. I put my hand over a tourist map of the area. To my surprise, I felt cool, moist air rising from a particular spot. I was once told this is how you find something psychically on a map. I tried it several times, moving the map around, closing my eyes—and always got the same result. The indication seemed to be about five miles off-shore, out in the Atlantic, although the search had concentrated on the harbor and the river.

Jon is interested in psychic phenomenon; in fact, conversations on the subject were what had occupied much of our friendship. He understood there wasn't much chance of our finding Tim after this time—but he agreed we had to do something. I found and chartered a boat, a 44-foot fishing yacht, and we headed out to sea.

The captain of the boat had no problem with the source of our destination coordinates. He spoke at length with David about where and when they'd been diving; he showed us on his navigational charts where the currents would have been flowing, and—amazingly enough—my coordinates, just west of the Isle of Shoals, actually made sense!

Off the coast of Kittery, Maine.

The four of us, plus the captain's mate and his son, who'd come along to help, stared out at the water. We had four pairs of binoculars, through which we tried to identify anything odd in the water. Soon we learned to recognize and discount seagulls, floating logs, and the thousands of brightly-colored floats lobstermen use to identify their traps. But we didn't see any sign of Tim.

I tried to use the psychic map trick on the navigational charts. To my dismay, the sensation was very faint—not nearly as distinct as it had been with the tourist map. And it seemed to be moving; it was strongest now, just west of the Isle of Shoals.

Off the coast of Kittery, Maine.

Before leaving, we circumnavigated each of the uninhabited shoals, inspecting carefully with all four pairs of binocs—but there was no trace of a diver or his equipment.

Off the coast of Kittery, Maine.

With no luck there, on another hunch, we traveled to another set of shoals a few miles to the north. And when that didn't pan out, and our time was up, the captain brought us in close to the New Hampshire shore so we could search there as well. I couldn't look. I was crying too hard. I had wanted so badly to find him! And why had the psychic thing stopped working once we were on the boat? Had it ever worked? What the hell good was it, anyway?!

Off the coast of Kittery, Maine.

Back on land, there was no point hanging around any longer. David drove Tim's truck back to Penacook with Linda following, and I took Jon back to Jon's home after stopping in Manchester for a change of clothes, so he wouldn't have to be alone.

By the following Friday there had still been no word. Nothing had been found. We knew Tim had left his knife behind in his truck, despite his assuring me on the phone how careful he was to bring all his safety equipment.

It was another week or so before Tim's body was finally found. Apparently, when he found himself being swept away, Timmy had grabbed hold of a lobster trap float and gotten tangled in its line. Without his knife, inadvertently left in his truck, he couldn't get free. The force of the current pulled him underwater with only about ten minutes of air left in his tank.

We held a memorial service for Tim at Fort Foster. At Jon's request, I sang Danny Boy and Amazing Grace while, seemingly unrelated to us, a local carnival set up on the shore. As we scattered Tim's ashes into the water, clowns on stilts formed a surreal backdrop that Tim would truly have appreciated.

David, somber, told me that, although he and Tim had planned to dive at a completely different location, at the last minute Tim, who was driving, steered into Fort Foster and insisted they dive there. I want to feel guilty about this, he confessed to me. But I can't even blame myself for choosing a dangerous place to dive; Tim was the one who picked it.

Jon thanked me for being with him when Tim was lost. No one else could have helped me as much as you, he said. You're the only man I know I would be able to cry in front of. You're the only one who knows when it's right to be logical, and when it's right to be emotional.

But I wanted to find him! I protested, feeling helpless all over again. And we wasted all that time on the boat, because of some stupid psychic hunch!

Jon hugged me. We needed to be on the boat. We needed to do something. I needed to do something. I needed to see where the currents went, and that Tim wasn't stranded on a shoal, and that the coastline is so well populated he wouldn't be overlooked if he came ashore there. You showed me all that, and that brought me peace.

A week before the memorial, Jon and I strolled along a hiking trail Tim had once shown him. We talked about the things Tim had taught us, and how Jon had been able to help Tim. It was unconditional love, he said. I used to want to send Tim to college, but one day he said, he didn't really want to go—just wanted to get really good at lawn maintenance and maybe become a supervisor at the landscaper's. And I said that was okay, because I just wanted him to be happy.

He always loved me unconditionally, Jon continued. He was so utterly loyal to me. I'm just sorry it took me so long to love him the same way—not try to fix him, just to love him.

And I'm sorry I didn't kiss him goodbye that morning when he left to go diving.

In the years since we lost Tim, I've come to appreciate the gifts he gave me, not just the general ones, but the specific gifts I've come to associate with his death.

First, Tim made it very clear that, at the soul level, our deaths are intentional. Of course Tim wasn't consciously aware he was about to die. Nevertheless, he had made an effort to call me—something he'd never before done—and assure me he knew how to be safe in the water, even mentioning his safety knife. He had made an effort to choose a place to dive that David did not choose or even agree with, so that David could bear no guilt in it. And then he had left his knife behind.

And, second, sometimes psychic information leads us where we must be, not necessarily where we think we want to go—and seldom where we expect it to take us.

Always kiss your loved ones goodbye. Always make sure they know you love them. You never know which goodbye, will be the last.