I was in Nanaimo a few days ago and went to Departure Bay for the first time in years. I took a couple of pictures of the bay and reminisced about a time I was there with a friend many, many years ago.
In the days before most families had two or more cars parked in front of their house, my friend Gina and I walked everywhere. At the tender age of sixteen we thought nothing of walking several miles from our houses to Departure Bay where we could hang out at the beach. I’d only lived in Nanaimo for a couple of months, and having grown up in the BC interior, deprived of an ocean for all those years, I was not a good swimmer. I could barely stay afloat. But at Departure Bay, a raft was anchored not too far out from the beach. We decided to swim for it, rest, and then swim back.
Gina and I were probably the giggliest girls that ever went through their teen years together, always goofing around. It’s no surprise then, that while we were “swimming” (dogpaddling, sidestroking, frog-legging, or whatever) out to the raft, Gina thought it would be a good time to tell a joke. I thought it was hilarious at the time, and yet I had no memory of it two hours later. All these years later, I still can’t remember that joke. I only know it was the funniest one I had ever heard.
I was in the middle of a not-so-graceful sidestroke when Gina got to the punchline. My stomach cramped up with laughter and I sank below the surface. It was pretty scary under that black water. Forget the joke. This wasn’t funny. I sobered up and kicked to the surface for a gasp of air. I tried to get my stroke back, saw Gina’s grinning face bobbing a few feet away from me. She rolled her eyes and made a face. I spluttered out the last bits of water in my mouth, cramped up with laughter and sank again.
“Holy smoke,” I thought. “I’m going to drown!” I kicked up, belched and spluttered out the water I’d inhaled, and snatched a lungful of air. One look at Gina’s grin and I was laughing again. It was such a funny joke. But as I sank for the third time, I remembered that old saying that once you go under three times, you’re done for.
“No way!” I thought. “I’m not going to die laughing.” I struggled to the surface and swam as hard as I could in my clumsy way, not daring to look at Gina. We were still some distance from the raft, and way too far out to consider turning back to shore. I managed to get to the raft, haul myself aboard, and collapse there.
Once Gina was up on the raft too, we had a proper giggle attack. Finally, finally, finally, we had no giggles left in us. After a while we thought we should head back but honestly, I was terrified to get back in the water. I would have been braver if I’d been alone, but with Gina beside me, there was no telling what might happen. What if she knew more than one joke? And it wasn’t only the jokes. We were experts at making faces at each other that would send us off into fits of giggles and snorts. I don’t know how we ever managed to grow up and turn into sensible, responsible people.
A cloud passed over us, and a breeze poofed the water up a bit. It was getting a bit chilly sitting on the raft. We knew we had to get back into that water soon. I made Gina promise not to make funny faces or tell any more jokes, or we might not make it back to shore. Just to be sure I did the sidestroke facing away from Gina all the way back to the beach.
We are still best friends these many years later, still telling jokes, but not while we’re swimming.