By Steve Vertlieb: It was one hundred ten years ago, on the night of April 14, 1912, at approximately 10:40 PM, when R.M.S. Titanic met her irrevocable date with destiny, striking an iceberg in the icy Atlantic and, within hours, sinking beneath the frozen waves of unthinkable terror. Titanic had an estimated 2,224 people on board. Her sinking, two hours and forty minutes later at 02:20 (ship’s time; 05:18 GMT) on Monday, April 15, resulted in the deaths of more than 1,500 people.
She was just four days into her maiden voyage from Southhampton to New York City when this “Unsinkable” vessel met disaster and finality, sailing into history, unspeakable tragedy, and maritime immortality. May God Rest Her Eternal Soul … the souls of the men, women, and children who sailed and perished during those nightmarish hours, and to all those who go courageously “Down to The Sea in Ships.” This horrifying remembrance remains among the most profoundly significant of my own seventy-six years.
As a little boy, during the early to mid-1950s, I was tormented night after night by nightmares of finding myself upon the bridge of a huge ocean liner, cruising the darkened waters of the Atlantic. I’d stare at the icy sea from her deserted decks in spellbound fascination, shivering in the black night as the infinite waters of eternity reached out from their depths to consume me. A sense of fear … of helplessness … of consummate trepidation and terror … wracked my subconscious memories as though trying vainly to recall a distant recollection … a troubled remembrance, lost and adrift in my subconscious … a horrifying perception of some tragic event waiting in the rapidly diminishing distance of my recollection, both to claim and ultimately consume me. After a time the ship seemed to disappear from my limited field of vision, and I’d find myself transposed … walking along the brooding ocean floor, enveloped in crushing darkness, as I sensed a horrifying presence behind me. I’d turn slowly each night in fear, unable to awaken, with encroaching dread. As I gazed up into the watery sky, I’d find myself standing next to the enormous hull of a wrecked and decaying ship. It beckoned to me. I sensed that somehow I belonged within the crumbling remnant of this decaying, watery tomb. I awoke screaming on each of these nights, clawing at the lamp beside my bed in order to brighten the darkness and return a semblance of sanity to the infinite darkness.
I’d never heard of Titanic in my early years, but I was tormented by these crippling dreams, night after suffocating night, for what seemed an eternity. To this day, the very sight and sound of the name “Titanic” sends me into cold sweats, along with a crippling sense of dread, and ominous foreboding. I’ve never subscribed to the concept of reincarnation … except in this singular instance. I’ve come to believe that I may have been aboard the doomed ocean liner that awful night, and that I’d returned three decades later as a little boy, awaiting his terrible fate and destiny, beneath the frigid waters of the Atlantic once more. I fear the ocean still. I cannot swim, nor have I ever wished to learn.
Once, in the waters off Puerto Rico, I stepped into a hole in the sand near shore, and felt myself drowning. I screamed in abject terror at the thought of being consumed by the darkness beneath the sun, begging for someone to reach out their hands to pull me back. In another instance, floating in the calm waters of The Dead Sea in Israel, I began drifting further and further from the comforting shore. Unable to stand, I cried out in terror for someone to rescue me. While I recognized intellectually that it may have been impossible to drown in these distant waters, the thought of being carried involuntarily out to sea, unable to break my descent into oblivion, brought icy dread to my heart, as I screamed for help. In moments of clarity, I try in vain to calm my imagination and return somehow to the clouded perception of reality.
And yet, there have been moments, while walking along the friendly boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey, caressed by summer breezes, that I’ve grasped the railing adjoining the darkened beach, stared out into the beckoning waters of The Atlantic, and allowed my already fertile imagination to lose its roots in the present. In those nightmarish moments, as I lose my grip upon my surroundings, I imagine the ocean rushing toward me, reaching out its icy tentacles in the troubled night, to consume and envelop me, I stare into the night, frozen in a grip of debilitating fear, wanting to scream … but I cannot. It remains a chilling remembrance that will forever haunt my dreams … a vision blurred by the passage of time, yet ever lurking malevolently beneath the icy waters of the eternal sea.
May God rest Titanic, along with her immortal soul, and the souls of all those who perished on that terrible night.