I was 9-years-old the first time I saw the future before it happened.
It was a warm fall evening. Dad and I sat on the flying bridge of our family’s boat and sang, talked, and reveled in the beauty of the setting sun over the languid Pacific as we made the crossing from the mainland to Catalina Island. My mother and sister were taking the public ferry over in the morning—mom too afraid to cross the channel in our 30-foot cabin cruiser at night.
There were no moorings available at Avalon, which was always preferred for its calm waters with the harbor protected by the rock breakwater. We had to pick up a mooring at St. Catherine’s, a small harbor on the north side of Avalon, exposed to the open ocean. Boats moored there continually pitched and tossed. Mom wasn’t going to be happy when she arrived with my sister on Saturday.
It was well after dark when dad got the boat in position and I grabbed the flag attached to the mooring line. I yanked the heavy rope out of the water, slipping and sliding on the deck as I secured it to our bow. By the time we laid anchor and tied the mooring lines it was almost 8:00 p.m. We caught the first water taxi to Avalon where we dined at the Flying Yachtsman, a favorite steak house for boater and locals. Just me and dad, captain and first mate, we ate mostly in silence, relishing the good meal after our long voyage.
We were almost through with dinner when a Coast Guard buddy of my father’s happened by and joined us for dessert. I was a little disappointed that my dad got involved in talking with his friend, Jim, and I was suddenly out of the loop. But I ate my apple crumb cake turning my head attentively to whomever was speaking, pretending to listen, though lost after the first few lines about horsepower in Jim’s new twin, fuel-injected engines.
After dinner, dad accepted Jim’s offer for a ride to our boat in his dinghy. I sat at the bow of the eight-foot skiff and dangled my hand over the side, letting my fingers comb the frothy waves created by the dinghy’s forward motion. My father sat in the center to keep the weight balanced, and Jim practically yelled over the loud outboard engine as he drove it. He described the damage from the Santa Ana winds that had blown through the island the previous week. Huge waves, some over 20 feet flooded storefronts. Several boats smashed into the shore when their mooring lines ripped from the ocean floor in St. Catherine’s, the harbor in which we were moored.
And that’s when my reality shifted. My awareness of where I was became distant, background to another. On some level I knew I was still on the skiff rounding the breakwater to the open sea on the way to our boat. But that’s not what I saw…
I wake on our boat in the middle of the night and lift my head to see the deep red light of the digital clock turn from 3:30 to 3:31. I glance over at my father sleeping next to me on the pull out bed in the main cabin. He’s turned away, snoring loudly. I slide the small curtain aside to glance out the window, and instead of the expected blackness I see a white sailboat six feet from our starboard side. It takes me a second to get that we’re about to crash into each other, suddenly aware that during the night our mooring line must have broken and we are free floating. Deck lights lit and mast lights on, every detail of the sailboat registers in my head–white, with light blue trim around the portholes and polished teak decks; identification numbers on the bow: K6749.
Then I was back in the dinghy, my finger’s freezing in the water. I snatched my hand out of the sea, tucked both hands between my legs and sat rigid as Jim pulled his dingy up to the stern of our boat. My father bid him goodbye with thanks as we boarded our vessel. Before dad crossed the deck to the cabin I started ranting.
“Our mooring line is going to break tonight and we’re going to hit a sailboat!”
“What are you talking about?” He stopped and turned to face me.
“I saw it. We’re going to smash into a sailboat at 3:30 in the morning. We have to move the boat now!”
“What do you mean, you ‘saw it?’”
I just stood there staring at him. I knew he wouldn’t believe me if I told him I had a vision. Hell, I didn’t believe me. But I knew what happened on that dinghy wasn’t a dream or fantasy. I knew I’d seen the future. I went back to proof by instance.
“Dad, our mooring line is going to break tonight and we’re going to hit a white sailboat with the call numbers K6749 if we don’t move the boat. So can we just move it, now please.”
My father took the empirical position as always. “Do you see any white sailboats anywhere near us?”
By the moonlight the closest one I could see was a few rows up and far to the right. I couldn’t make out the call numbers, but I could see it had long narrow rectangular windows, not portholes. I shook my head.
“Okay. And hasn’t our boat been secured here all evening, the mooring clearly holding fast?”
“And even if our mooring did break, we’d have the front anchor to secure the boat from drifting, isn’t that right?”
“Yeah. I guess.” I started to doubt my vision with his compiling logic.
“Well, what I’m guessing is when Jim told us that the mooring lines in St. Catherine’s broke last week with the Santa Ana’s, it scared you. Did you hear him say that all the moorings were replaced with new ones?”
No. I’d missed that part because I was inside my head living an alternate reality at the time. “No. I didn’t hear him say that.”
“It’s late, sweetie,” my dad said, going into the cabin. “Let’s get ready for bed.”
I woke up in the middle of the night and the first thing I noticed was the digital clock turning from 3:30 to 3:31, I knew instantly that my earlier experience had not been a fantasy born of fear. I held my breath as I moved aside the curtain. I knew before actually seeing it that we were almost on top of a white sailboat. It had moored next to us while we slept.
I woke my father, screaming for him to get up as I scurried around him. He followed me out to the deck and saw that we were about to hit a sailboat, got the 12-foot push pole and wedged it between our two boats to avoid them smashing into each other while he put out the side bumpers. He told me to lift the front anchor and then yelled to the people on the sailboat to rouse them. As I moved along the narrow ledge around the side of our boat I noticed the call numbers K6749 printed on the sailboat’s bow.
The captain of the sailboat finally came on deck, got his push pole and kept our boats apart while my father ignited our diesel engines. Slipping and sliding, struggling to pull the heavy anchor out of the water onto the bow of our wet deck, I almost fell off the boat several times, which, to this day, over 40 years later, my father recites that bit of the incident. He invariably adds, “Something else happened weird that night…” but he can never recall what. I’ve never reminded him, but I’ll never forget.
I’d have likely put the experience down to my imagination, or a faulty memory, or ‘just one of those things,’ but it happened many times growing up and through my early 20’s. It came without warning, usually triggered by something someone said, and I would experience a reality shift in a flash. Sometimes, though rarely, it came in the form of a dream, but upon waking I knew it wasn’t a dream. Within hours the dream would play itself out in reality. Earthquakes were a big trigger. I would ‘see’ them before they occurred, know how strong they were going to be and the effects in their wake. Unusual events, generally with life threatening potential were also triggers, though rarely involving someone I knew. I saw car accidents, sometimes through the eyes of the drivers, hear about it the next day on the news, knowing what it was like in that car moments before, and then upon impact.
I don’t know where the visions came from. I knew they were glimpses of the future because they weren’t disjointed, like a dream or hallucination. They were sequential, tactile, visceral, a complete and instant emergence into another reality, separate from, yet similar to my experience of present time. I have not experienced one in over 20 years and I have no wish to. They were fundamentally frightening, and uncontrollable. The few times I told someone what I’d experienced before the event went down, no one ever believed me, until after. And I was never able to stop an event from occurring. Not once.
Seeing the future is pointless without the ability to change it.
(Of course, it can be argued I did change the future by alerting my father and thus avoiding a collision with the sailboat. But I never saw us hit each other in my vision. I ‘saw’ the exact same view out our boat window as the one that happened in reality, when our boats were still six feet apart…)