My niece Emily and I have always been very close. From the day Emily was born she was happy and smiling. Emily’s mom Jane was happy to share Emily with me as much as I wanted. When Emily was born I was in my late 20’s and married to my now ex-husband Eric. At that time Eric and I spent most spring and summer weekends in Nyack on the boat he owned with his brother Glenn, Emily’s dad. We would sleep on the boat over the weekend, while Glenn would go back and forth to his house just minutes from where the boat was docked next to the Tappan Zee Bridge.
Almost every weekend that I went up to the boat, Glenn would bring Emily to the boat for me to watch and play with. I adored this time with Emily. She was, and still is, a pure delight. Just a bag of smiles. Sometimes we would take the boat for a ride up the Hudson River toward West Point with little Emily at 7-8 months wearing her life vest. The boat was 30 feet long and had a lower cabin with a small sleep bunk. Whenever Emily would nap, I’d lie next to her in the bunk and nap next to her, with the rocking of the waves and sound of water lolling both of us to sleep; the scent of baby wafting next to me as I rested was a gift.
One particular day the 4 of us, Eric, Glenn, Emily and me were returning to the dock after a ride up the Hudson. Emily was sleeping. The tide was too low for the men to bring the boat into its slip, and it would be another 1 ½ hours before the water level would be high enough to bring it about. Just outside the boat slips was a retaining wall with a small platform; next to it was a parked barge. The men decided to tie up the boat to the barge until we could pull into the slip. The boat slips were behind a restaurant/bar. The men asked me if it would be okay to leave me with Emily while she slept so they could go to the restaurant and grab a bite. I said sure. I always loved just being with Emily.
Eric and Glenn were gone about ½ hour when I started to hear crunching. Crunch crunch crunch. I came above deck. The rope tying the back of the boat to the barge had come loose, and now the wooden boat was bashing with each wave against the huge steel barge. The boat was swinging back and forth, and up and down with the waves; the rear of the boat riding wild against the barge….crunch, crunch, crunch. I could see the wood starting to split.
Oh shit shit shit. Of course, this was years before cellphones. I shouted for help with my voice being carried out to the river; no one heard me. I shouted for 5 minutes. That was enough. I had to do something. In my mind, the boat might eventually get smashed hard enough and start to sink before the guys got back. I went below deck and picked up sleeping Emily. She just laid her sleepy head on my shoulder. I went above deck; I held Emily tight with one hand and with the other held onto the railing on the upper deck of the boat standing on the edge of the boat as it continued to swing. I was preparing to jump.
I was scared scared scared. The boat continued to sway back and forth and up and down. If I missed the barge when I jumped, Emily and I would be crushed between the boat and barge. I felt compelled to jump as I looked at the crushed wood next to me. Emily started to cry. Wait, wait, wait for the moment. There is no moment Kathleen. Just do it.
I did. I held that little girl so tight I must have squeezed the breath out of her, and when the boat swung close to the barge I leapt. I made it. I landed on knees but I made it. Emily was crying. I comforted her. She stopped crying. I sat there holding Emily watching the boat continue to crunch, watching the wood crumble, watching the tie line get ever looser and the back of the boat swing further out. There was nothing I could do about the boat but wait for the guys.
And then they came…. I saw them walking down the pier toward me. They saw I was off the boat and immediately started to run. In a flurry of activity, I said Emily and I were fine; they quickly did their manly thing and saved the boat. Glenn got into the captain’s chair and drove the boat around to its slip.
It was over. I said to Eric, would you please hold Emily? He did. Now it was over. Now everyone was safe. Success. I sat down on the barge and sobbed in relief.