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Beneath the Surface
The ocean is a cold, deadly place. From afar, it may not seem it. But when you’re out there, surrounded by the sea and nothing but the sea, you begin to feel it.
When you first fall out of the boat, you’re not very worried. After all, you can just swim back to the boat, no big deal. But it’s not until you’ve swam back that the tiniest blossom of fear begins to bloom in your chest. And it’s not long after that that you realize something is wrong, something is very, very wrong.
I know this because I’ve experienced it. I’ve been completely and hopelessly adrift in the ocean, waiting for the end to come. And this is how it happened.
“Come on, Star, it’ll be sooo fun!” My best friend, Mindy, begged.
I sighed loudly, and explained my case once more. “Spending two summers worth of savings to go on a week long cruise is not fun. It’s wasteful.”
Mindy pouted, and I continued “Besides, you know how I feel about boats. They’re dangerous, just th-”
“This boat is, like, 100 percent unbreakable!” she interrupted.
I gave her a look “ That’s what they said about the Titanic, and just look where that got them. 1,503 people dead, never to see the light of day again.”
Mindy shied away from my distasteful frown, muttering, “You and all your useless facts,”
“How about this-- you come with me on the cruise, and I’ll pay you back when I’m rich and famous!”
“Yeah, IF you’re ever rich or famous.”
Mindy sighed. “Star, would you please just think about it? We never have any time to do anything fun anymore, and I miss hanging out with my best bud!”
Mindy certainly looked distressed, and I let out another sigh. She’d beat me on this one, how could I say know to her crestfallen face? “Fine, I’ll go. But just so you know, nothing like this will ever happen again. EVER. So don’t get used to it.”
Mindy giggled, easily returning to her usual happy temperament. I wish she hadn’t been so persistent, or that I had put my foot down and said no. I miss her so much, more every day.
The day we boarded the boat looked promising enough. The sun was shining golden rays on the bay, lighting up the murky blue-green water. Little fishes were swimming along the boats, which excited Mindy nearly to death. Honestly, I wasn’t too impressed. They’re just fish, after all.
When we got onto the boat, I decided I’d take a nap. The first couple hours on a boat tend to give me seasickness, so I always try to sleep through that time frame. Also, I wasn’t feeling too good; I think I was getting a cold.
I slept the rest of the day and until around noon the next. When I woke up, I was feeling much better and, to my relief, I wasn’t getting seasick. I was about to open the door of our cabin when Mindy flew through it, eyes wide, looking like a scared kitten.
“Star!” she wailed, “The weather’s terrible! The waves are getting so high, and we’re supposed to stay in our cabin’s, and I’m scared!”
Resisting the urge to say I told you so, I instead tried to reassure her, saying, “At least they haven’t told us to get in the lifeboats, yet.” Completely at odds with Mindy’s expression, my face was blank and almost bored, as I had yet to begin to worry. I always have been the calm one when things go wrong.
That just made her panic more, and she nearly fainted on the spot. I gently walked her over to her bed, and made her sit down. “Mindy. Have you tried calling your parents yet? They must be worried about you. How about you try calling you mom, I’ll try calling mine, and we can all calm down.”
Mindy shuddered, but dug through her pocket for her phone while I dialed my mom’s number. Luckily, the ship’s wifi was still up and running, and our calls made it through. I quickly explained to my mom what was happening, through the racket Mindy was making wailing into her phone, and our conversation was over in less than five minutes. That’s one of the things I like about my mom-- she doesn’t freak out over much, just like me.
Before Mindy was done talking to her mom, the wifi went off, abruptly cutting her call short. I felt bad, seeing that my best friend was so unhappy and I couldn’t do anything to help. A short while later, a scared looking woman knocked on our door, and told us that it would be best for us to leave most of our belongings and head towards the lifeboats.
Outside our cabin was chaos, with people running, pushing, and shoving one another in attempt to get to safety before it was too late. I was more annoyed than frightened at that point, as all the chaos was giving me a headache. I sighed, and led Mindy towards the life jackets, maybe cutting in front of a few people to get out of there faster. Once we’d both put them on securely, we half walked, half jogged to the lifeboats, as Mindy was trying her hardest to make me go faster.
There were, as was to be expected, a LOT of people trying to get on the boats. But I wasn’t too worried; there’s usually enough lifeboats for around 75% of the people, and I reckoned we were close enough to the boats to be among that 75%.
Sure enough, Mindy and I were packed into lifeboats within five minutes. Unfortunately, we were on separate boats and I was in the uncomfortable situation of having an overweight child sitting on my feet.
Some of the more muscular people in our boat began rowing us away, in a random direction. I watched our cruise ship as it slowly disappeared, and wished I had my phone with me to record it slowly tipping over. The storm was still terrible, and the waves nearly knocked a few people off of the boat.
I decided then and there that my little mini cruise ship needed a name, and from then forth, she was known as Maddie. Short for Madison, of course.
The storm just got worse and worse, and I began to worry for Mindy. I wasn’t terrified, I knew I had to stay strong to make it through this, but as more and more people from our boat became lost in the sea I found it getting hard to breathe. Eventually, there were so few people left in the boat that I could curl up under the seat and try to forget everything that had happened that day.
As I lay there, I practiced the art of clearing my mind, something I was thankfully pretty good at. I then proceeded to slowly drift asleep as Maddie drifted in a direction that was hopefully getting me closer and closer to land.
I woke up to a gentle thump underneath Maddie. I jolted upright, and banged my head on the underside of Maddie’s bench. I groaned, and pried my eyes open. When I had successfully maneuvered myself out from underneath the bench, I felt another thump. It took a little while for me to remember what had happened, and a little longer for me to wonder what was making the thumping noise.
The boat was empty, it was just me and a dead fish the ocean must’ve thrown at me. The boat thumped again, and I realized that there was a cute little sea turtle hitting the boat like an idiot. Adorable, but I doubted it would live for much longer with a brain like that.
I was worried sick about Mindy, but I shoved those thoughts out of my mind. With thoughts like that, I would start to panic and never make it through this. So, I crawled across the boat and tossed the dead fish at the turtle, scaring it away. For all my many facts, I knew nearly nothing about the ocean, but I guessed that the turtle meant I wasn’t too terribly far away from shore.
I was about to begin paddling in the direction that the turtle took off, but I realized the oars weren’t in the boat. Naturally, I was stuck all alone in a boat with no food, no water, and no oars. I realized then that I’d just have to wait for the rescue people to come and find me. I never was good at waiting, I’m far too get it done yourself as quick as you can. After what felt like hours of waiting, I decided to walk around Maddie and stretch my muscles.
The universe had other plans, however, and almost as soon as I stood up, the boat trembled and flipped, tossing me in the water. I fell maybe four feet into the water, and struggled to use my aching muscles to swim me up the short distance. When I surfaced, spluttering and coughing, I felt a tad bit uneasy, but I couldn’t quite put a finger on what it was that was unnerving me.
I swam back to Maddie, and fumbled around for a few moments trying to flip her right side up. By this point, I realized that I felt like I was being watched, and nearly flipped over Maddie again as I got back in.
I sat in the middle of the boat, not daring to move. Despite my best efforts, my breathing was quick and shallow, and my fear grew by the second. I cowered, for the first time realizing just how wide, how deep the ocean was.
Everything within my sight was blue, with the exceptions of Maddie and myself. The blue, cloudless sky was a slightly paler version of the deep blue ocean, dark with what could only be depth. The sun shined on the water, illuminating it as it rippled and causing me to see thousands of shadows out of the corners of my eyes.
I peered into the ocean a final time, straining my eyes to see to the bottom when I knew it was impossible. After that, I fainted, there and then. When I recovered, I just laid there, slowly processing the dangers of the sea.
Drowning. Sharks. Suffocation. Teeth. Starvation. Dehydration. Empty stomach. Dry throat. Sea monsters-- by that point, I’d have believed anything.
It was as I lay there, finally understanding the terrors of the ocean, that I fell into a deep, deep sleep. I dreamed I was a little girl, splashing around in the bay. But as I swam, I was dragged down, down, down. I saw an eel, then another, curling up around me, slowly tightening their grips like boa constrictors. Then there was a noise. A comforting, happy noise. A noise like the rumblings of hope.
When I woke up, I was in a hospital bed. A nearby nurse saw me wake up and gave me a big, fake smile. “It’s ok, Sweety, do you remember what happened to you?”
I nodded, the memories coming back to me in waves.
“Am I hurt?” I asked, my voice scratchy.
“Nothing too bad, Dear, just a bit of dehydration, but we’re getting you back to normal. You’re parents are here, in the waiting room. Should I call for them?”
It was that day I learned that Mindy was one of the many people who died during the storm. I’m not sure if I’ll ever quite forgive myself for agreeing to go on the cruise, it’s survivor’s guilt, my mom says. But still, I feel almost responsible for her death, and it hurts me more than I thought anything ever could.
I’ve never gone back to the ocean, and I doubt I ever will. Just thinking about the sea makes me afraid, but I’ll never admit it to anyone. I don’t want them thinking I’m scared, although I am.
It’s been years, almost twenty now, since I realized what a scary place the world can be, and I’ve dedicated myself to being a police officer. I want to help save people the way I was once saved, and every day at my work makes me feel like I’ve made a difference. No matter how small an issue I resolve, I know I’m helping out, and I don’t ever want to stop.