There was something scary about not being able to breathe. The air was being ripped away from my lungs and an unforgettable feeling of desperation soon followed. Panic rose up to my throat, choking me with its death hold and leaving me helpless.
Every five years, my family took a trip to Hawaii right before school let out for winter break. And for any eight-year-old who disliked school, three weeks of break was the greatest feeling in the world. Despite it being winter, Hawaii was at the perfect temperature. On Hanauma Bay, where the water was a refreshing blue-green and the sand was gritty beneath bare feet, life was at its peak. And today, life was about to get better. I was going to go snorkeling to see the hundreds of fish swimming in the tropical waters.
The snorkeling mask was uncomfortable. For one, it was neon yellow and fit so tightly across my face that my eyes bulged. But despite how tight the goggles were, they stretched out and hung loose from my face in a matter of minutes. Still, determined to snorkel, I took off running with my dad, sand spraying behind us in all directions, into the salt waters of Hanauma Bay.
Though breathing through my mouth was strange at first, I got used to the taste of salty air in my mouth and focused on the more important things- trying to spot a cooler fish than my dad. That’s when it happened. I caught a glimpse of a thin, long silvery-blue fish that was unlike any other that my dad had seen. But it gracefully slithered away before I could point it out. So like any other logical eight-year-old would do, I dragged my dad behind me so that I could keep the fish in view. The algae covered rocks below seemed to sink lower and lower as we swam but we were preoccupied. With each second, the fish slipped further into the growingly murky water. My dad and I blindly followed.
We slowly approached the fish that was shining brilliantly amidst the dim sunlight that still filtered through. But suddenly, my goggles slipped. In a split second, they were half-filled with the salt water of Hanauma Bay. My eyes burned as if someone had poured acid into them. Truly blinded and starting to feel the first wisps of panic, I began to flail. Trying to raise me above the surface, my dad moved to stand on the rocks that were beneath us only seconds ago. But beneath him he found nothing.
He had lost both his footing and his hold on me. Now unattached from the sole reason that I had stayed afloat, I began to sink rapidly. The friendly waves from before crashed onto me, their heavy weight forcing me down. The air tube was knocked away from my mouth and my vision blurred. Before my eyes danced black and red splotches. Were my eyes closed? Any air that was left in my lungs was long gone. Instinctively I took a breath, only to be greeted with more briny water that further choked me. I couldn't fight the terror that took ahold of me, squeezing its cold unfeeling hand around my lungs and heart. My body began to throb. As my brain went hazy I heard people screaming in delight from around me. Pleas for help were lodged in my throat, blocked off by the water I had choked down. I’m scared. I can’t breathe. Please help me. Is this what dying feels like--- And suddenly there was a hand. It pulled me out from the sea of terror and into air.
I was still choking and coughing but I could breathe. The salty air tasted sweet in my deprived lungs. The strangling in my throat loosened. The pounding in my ears slowed and the cold webs of terror slowly dissipated in the warm sun that I’d been pulled up to. The adrenaline crash overwhelmed me and I began to sob. Even as I laid rumpled on the lifeguard’s rescue board, tears pouring out of my eyes, I knew that I was fine. I had been saved and I could finally breathe again.