April 14, 2012

Waves surge over the deck, causing the boat to come free of its moorings. It catches me off guard, icy water carrying me off the deck into the sea.

Bodies thrash all around me, screams fill the air as the mighty Titanic's bow submerges. It sounds like a dying animal, great moans and creaks filling the darkness. Lines snap free of the funnel and it slams into the water, crushing people beneath it. The wave catches me.

I am underwater. I can't breathe. Suction is pulling me down with the ship. I fight to be free, but it grips me.

You will come home safe, won't you?

My wife's voice echoes in my mind, her smile. I think on her with what I know is my last breath….

Eruptions, explosions below deck; I am surrounded by debris and thrust heavenward—I break the surface of the water and gasp in freezing air. The sea is alive with thrashing bodies. There is still enough light from the ship for me to swim to the overturned lifeboat and grab hold.

My hands are like ice. It feels like daggers plunge into my body, over and over again. I don't think of the bottomless depths beneath me. I don't think of the screaming, dying passengers and crew around me. I don't think of the ship as it tilts upward, the lights flicker out, cracks, and submerges. I don't think of the voices that die out one by one, of the strong hands that pull me up, of the poor, shivering boy toward the back of the group whose legs are frozen. I don't think of previous hours, when the collision woke me from my sleep, or a pale-faced Thomas Andrews warned us the ship would sink. I don't think of my orders to load the lifeboats half full and fill them up at the lower doors. I don't think of my last moments with Murdoch, or Captain Smith.

I can't think about it.

"Lightoller," a shivering man says, gripping my arm, "what do we do?"

Stars gleam distantly above us. Faces turn to me in expectation.

What must we do?

Survive.