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The Last Big Wave
Mary Deal

“It’s metastasized into your lungs,” the doctor said. “No more surfing for you, Ms. Queen of the Waves. Not in your weakened condition.” He thought if I fell I wouldn’t be able to save myself from drowning. He’s elderly, fatherly. I felt regret and wondered why my life couldn’t last as long as his.

Chemo and radiation were a last resort. The x-rays showed more spreading disease than healthy tissue. I decided to stop the treatments.

My best friend sat in the waiting room. Though we’ve never been lovers, Ben has been my long-time companion. When I told him about my advanced condition, he lost his composure.

Ben lost his twin sister when a drunk driver hit her on her bike. I resembled his sister and didn’t wish to replace her but Ben’s friendship was pure. I’d settle for nothing less, but didn’t want marriage. Ben understood. He helped restore my confidence and self-esteem after my abusive relationship. We share a bond, but once I’m gone, Ben will have lost another person he loves.

A friend asked if I was scared. I hadn’t been. Being nearly two miles off shore surfing the big rollers among the marauding sharks is life-threatening. That never scared me, but lately being courageous feels scripted at times.

As Ben drives quietly, a sense of doom rolls through my mind. With cancer consuming my flesh, my emotions and stability, a great urge to scream gets stuck in my throat. I begin to shake. I pull down the sun visor, flick open the mirror, and pretended to fix my hair. My small talk is a dead give-away.

We arrive at our favorite beach on Kauai’s North Shore. He and I live to surf. It’s as if the sea is our life’s blood. We’re the last to leave the water.

We walk across the beach at Hanalei Bay. The sand has cooled by this late hour. The tall beach break barrels keep coming, their frothy caps inviting. We hope to catch the last big wave of the day. Ben helps me fasten the straps of my vest, a life preserver to save a life that can’t be saved.

Wading into the warm tropical water, Ben stays beside me, where he’s been, like a guardian angel. The ocean’s roar fills my ears with the sound of a never-ending rhythm as the tide rolls in, ebbs, and then returns anew. Strong trade winds kick up. A storm at sea may be pushing our way. As we mount our surfboards, Ben smiles and motions with a nod toward a monster swell approaching. It glistens as the fading sun spreads a trough of light across the water toward us, signaling the day’s end is near. We need to get behind the swell and ride in on the surge before the storm catches us. Lying flat, we paddle out toward the early setting sun.


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