I was 9 years old the first time I saw the future before it happened.
Dad and I were up on the flying bridge of our 30-foot cabin cruiser doing the crossing from Long Beach to Catalina Island. I sat on the padded bench on top of the boat that warm fall evening, marveling at the 360° unobstructed view of the ocean and sky. My dad stood, his huge hands on the big wooden wheel attached to the bridge in front of us, reeling off fish stories. We sang old ’40s tunes he’d taught me and reveled in the beauty of the setting sun over the languid Pacific as we made the two-hour voyage.
It was well after dark when we pulled into Avalon. The harbor master pulled his boat alongside ours and informed us there were no moorings available in the protected harbor. We had to pick up a mooring at St. Catherine’s, a small inlet 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 in the morning. They were taking the ‘cattle boat,’ the harbor ferry, afraid to cross the volatile Pacific at night in our small craft.
I stood at the bow railing as we went around the Avalon breakwater, my heart racing. I was afraid of falling off the boat while trying to lift the mooring, or looking like a little kid failing to secure it to our vessel. Dad got our boat in position at St. Catherine’s and I grabbed the flag attached to the mooring line. I yanked the heavy rope out of the water, secured it to the bow cleat then ran the line along the side of our boat to the stern while Dad lay the anchor off the bow. We caught the first water taxi to Avalon and dined at the Flying Yachtsman, a favorite steak house for boaters and locals. Just me and Dad, captain and first mate, we ate mostly in silence, relishing the good meal after our long journey.
We were finishing dinner when Jim Nelson, my father’s Coast Guard buddy, happened by and offered us a ride back to our boat in his dinghy. I sat at the bow of Jim’s 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 Anna winds that had blown through the island the previous week. Huge waves, some over 20 feet had flooded Avalon storefronts. Several boats smashed into the shore when their mooring lines ripped from the ocean floor in St. Catherine’s, the inlet 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 Jim’s skiff rounding the breakwater to the open sea on the way to our boat. But that’s not what I saw…
I’m startled awake in the dark by the sudden pitch of our boat. I lift my head to see the deep red light of the digital clock mounted on the polished wood dashboard of the helm turn from 3:30 to 3:31. It must be later tonight I figure as I glance over at my father sleeping next to me on the big pullout bed in the main cabin. I’d have been relegated to the small bunk in the dank cabin below if my mother and sister had arrived. Dad’s turned away from me, on his side, snoring loudly. I sit up and slide the small curtain aside to glance out the window. Instead of the expected dark sea swells tossing our boat about, I see a sleek white sailboat a bit larger than our 30′ cruiser a couple of yards off our starboard side. It’s rocking so heavily with the swells its huge mast comes within feet of hitting our flying bridge. It takes me a second to realize that we’re about to smash into that sailboat, as somehow I’m suddenly aware that during the night our mooring line broke and we are free floating. Their 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 fingers 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 dinghy up to the stern of our boat. What was that? echoed in my head. Not a dream. I knew I’d been awake the whole ride. I’d seen real time unfolding, just in the background. What did I just see then? But as my father bid Jim goodnight with thanks and we boarded our vessel I knew. And before Dad crossed the deck to the main cabin I started ranting.
“Our mooring line is going to break tonight and we’re going to hit a sailboat!” My heart was racing and it felt like my eyes were gonna pop out of my head as I stared at my father, scared I’d be unable to convince him of our urgent situation.
“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.’ But I knew what happened, what I saw on Jim’s dinghy wasn’t a dream or fantasy. I was sure I’d seen the future. So I went back to proof by insistence.
“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 our boat.”
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 moored 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, I’m guessing when Jim Nelson told us the mooring lines in St. Catherine’s broke last week that it scared you. Did you hear him say all the lines have been replaced with new ones?”
No. I’d missed that part because I was inside my head living an alternate reality at the time. “I didn’t hear him say that.”
“It’s late, sweetie,” my dad said, turning away and going into the cabin. “Go get ready for bed.”
I tried to stay awake. I lay next to my dad listening to him snore and kept my eyes open waiting to hear our mooring line break. I was determined to rouse my dad before we hit the sailboat, but I drifted off with the swaying of our boat and the lateness of the hour.
A pitch of the boat woke me in the middle of the night. I lifted my head to see the digital clock on the helm dashboard turning from 3:30 to 3:31. I knew instantly that my earlier vision on Jim’s dinghy had not been a fantasy born of fear. I held my breath as I sat up and moved the curtain aside. I knew before actually seeing it that we were almost on top of a white sailboat. It must have moored next to us while we slept.
I woke my father, screaming for him to get up as I scurried off the bed. Out on deck I got the push pole from the rack but before I could put it between our boats my dad took it from me. He held the rubber tip of the pole against the starboard side of the sailboat to prevent our boats from smashing into each other while I put out the side bumpers as he instructed. It was cold, windy, rocky and dark, and I was scared out of my mind navigating the slick, narrow ledge around the side of our boat as I tied off each bumper’s rope to a cleat then dropped them over the side, but even in all the mayhem I noticed the call numbers K6749 printed on the sailboat’s bow.
“Hey!” my dad yelled at the sailboat. “Hey! Get up! On deck!” His light blue pajamas rippled with the wind as he struggled to keep the push pole on the bobbing sailboat in the heavy swells of high tide rushing into St. Catherine’s inlet.
It was clear our mooring line had broken because the heavy rope was no longer along the side of the boat, and the flag was also gone from the bow deck. Our anchor had dragged quite a bit without the mooring to hold our boat in place and we were now on top of the sailboat moored next to us.
The captain of the sailboat finally came on his deck, got his push pole and kept our boats apart. My father went up to the flying bridge helm and yelled at me on the bow deck below to lift our anchor, then he ignited our diesel engines. Slipping and sliding with our boat bobbing, I struggled to crank the pulley to lift the heavy anchor out of the water, then finally managed to secure the clips holding the anchor on the bow of our slick deck.
My dad managed to move our boat away from the sailboat safely. I sat on the bow deck shivering as we went around the breakwater into Avalon. I was likely in shock because I don’t remember thinking or feeling anything right then but cold. The harbor master assigned us a mooring in the protected harbor after hearing of our perils. My dad positioned our boat for me to grab the flag and as I lifted the mooring onto our bow I slipped. I flopped on my belly. One leg went off the deck and I grabbed the railing before my body followed. My father saw me almost fall off the boat, and to this day, over 40 years later, he focuses on that bit of the mooring incident—that raw fear a parent gets when they see their kid in mortal danger. He invariably adds, “Something else happened weird that night…” but he can never recall what. I’ve not reminded him, but I’ll never forget.
A few weeks home from Catalina I started to doubt my vision in Jim’s dinghy. I put the experience down to childhood imaginings, or a faulty memory, or ‘just one of those things.’ Then it happened again, just months later. I had a ‘dream’ we had an earthquake. I woke in the night panicked, somehow knowing it wasn’t a dream but a vision, similar in feeling to the one in Jim’s skiff. I lay there trying to quelled my gnawing fear with the improbability I’d seen the future, but recalling the mooring debacle, I could not convince myself it was just a dream. I stood on my bed looking out my window at my dark, quiet, tree-lined street and waited for it.
An hour or so later, I heard it far off. It sounded like a freight train coming down our street. The rumbling got louder and louder, then the house started shaking and I started screaming, horrified. In my dream I’d seen a freeway overpass fall on several cars and an apartment building crumble on residence. Only days later, once power was restored, I saw on the news what I’d seen happen in my dream.
I saw the future out of time many times growing up and throughout my early twenties. The visions came without warning, usually triggered by something someone said, and I would experience a reality shift in a flash. Sometimes, it came in the form of a dream, but upon waking, I knew it wasn’t a dream. Unlike a dream or hallucination, the visions were not disjointed. They were visceral, linear, sequential— unfolding in real time without gaps—a complete and instant emergence into another reality, separate from, yet similar to my experience of present time.
And I quickly grew to hate them.
I would often see earthquakes before they occurred, know how strong they were going to be and the damage they’d leave in their wake. Unusual events, generally with life-threatening potential, were also triggers, though rarely involving someone I knew. I saw car accidents every few months or so, sometimes through the eyes of the drivers, and experienced what it was like in that car moments before the crash, and then upon impact. I’d hear about the accident creating the traffic I was stuck in on the radio the next day, though I’d seen the crash happen a day or two before in a vision.
I have not experienced the future out of time in over 20 years and I have no wish to. They were fundamentally frightening, uncontrollable. The few times I told someone what I’d seen before the event went down, no one ever believed me until after it happened. And I was never able to stop an event from occurring. Not once.
Over the years I’ve pondered what these glimpses of the future were. I do not believe a ‘higher power’ gave them to me. Any ‘god’ who’d force me to witness the future without the ability to change it would be a sadist.
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 on Jim Nelson’s dinghy. I saw the exact same scene as the one that unfolded in reality hours later that night, when our boats were still a couple yards apart…
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