I Write Because I am a Coward

Victoria A. Hudson Emerging Writer Prize Semi-finalist Augustine Wetta’s response to the prompt – Why I write…

I Write Because I Am a Coward

I write because I am a coward. I am aware that this sounds like false humility. It is false humility. But it is also true.

Twenty-­‐four years ago, when I was working as a lifeguard in Galveston, Texas, I had to pull a corpse out of the water. The body had been drifting alongshore among the crabs and sharks
for three days. When I arrived on the scene, there was a crowd gathered at the water’s edge, jittery and hushed and expectant; and I remember that I was very frightened because no one knew exactly where the body was. That meant I’d have to swim out there and just keep swimming in circles until I bumped into it. I remember calling into my radio for backup, but knowing that help would be a long time coming because Tower 53 was seventeen miles from Headquarters. And I remember how warm the water was that day, and how every tendril of seaweed that brushed against my skin made me gasp and grit my teeth.

But most of vividly of all—and this is the part that still gives me nightmares—I remember realizing that at any moment, I might just…come unglued. There was a real chance that, in front of all those people, I’d throw my buoy in the sand and run away. That was a real possibility. And I remember saying to myself as I pushed deeper into the water that if I could just set one foot in front of the other, eventually it would all be over.

I am a monk now. I have lived as a Benedictine monk for seventeen years, and I think the reason I write is the same as the reason I pray. Frightening and lonely as it can be, I find that more often than not, one foot follows the other. And I take
consolation in this act of writing, because on that day in 1990, when I stepped into the surf to retrieve the body of an unidentified thirty-­‐year-­‐old Caucasian male, I never found him. Deliberately. I shuffled around in the shallows where I knew I’d never find him—and I stayed there until my supervisors showed up. Then they swam out and retrieved the corpse while I pretended to help.

So you see, I’ve thrown my lot in with the cowards. And although I don’t imagine that I’m much worse of a sinner than anyone else, the fact remains that I’ve stood in the shallows while someone else swam deep and did my job. And I’ve done this more than once. My soul is littered with corpses: unspoken apologies, unwritten letters, unpunished wrongs and unanswered prayers.

Twenty years later, alone in my cell, looking out over the cloister garden, I sometimes think of these failures, and of that day at the 53rd Street Beach, and I am ashamed. But then I begin to write. I put one foot in front of the other. And out of the depths, the corpses begin to surface. I drag them to shore and I give them names.

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