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My family’s small ski boat rocks back and forth in time with the gentle waves rolling by. The quiet lull of the rocking boat and warm sun calms the excitement of the family outing at Saylorville Lake. My sister, Hailey, and I scream as we jump off the back of the boat into the cool murky lake water. After frolicking around in the lake for a while, Hailey attaches herself to my side in hopes of pulling me under the water when I hear my mom speak to us.
“Girls, get in the boat,” she says in a gentle voice.
Hailey starts complaining, protesting the idea of missing out on the fun of pushing me under the water, “But I don’t want to. Why do we have to get in? It’s too boring sitting up there.”
“Honey, we have to go. The weather is getting bad.”
Speaking up, I side with my elder sister of three years to continue playing in the water, “But we’ve been out in weather worse than this!”
“We have to go now. Do you see the clouds? Those dark clouds mean bad weather and rain is coming. We don’t want to be out here when that happens. It’s not safe.”
My sister and I both turn around in the water and we see the imposing clouds. The dark storm clouds form a bleak wall that cast a darkness to the ground underneath it. The threatening thought of being caught in a storm under the dense pitch black clouds scares my sister and I enough that we join my mother and father on the boat. The worried looks on my parent's faces tell my six-year-old self that I should be concerned about the weather too.
“Didn’t you check the weather before we came out here?” My mother asks my dad with a fearful voice.
“It’s been perfect for the last few days, Angela. This morning was clear,” My dad replies while preparing to leave the small cove we have reveled in for the last hour.
My dad turns on the engine and turns off the effervescent music he loves to play and races to the boat ramp. The first few small raindrops plop onto the lake around us. This is exciting, I think, as the rain drops start to gently fall and splash onto my face. I have never been out on the boat when it was raining and chilly. The worries of my parents went over my head during the ride to the docks as I sit in the back of the speeding boat trying to have a conversation with my sister above the noise of the harsh wind.
The gentle waves this morning have become bigger, making the small ski boat bounce harshly across the water. Out in the middle of the lake, I can see some of the waves rolling over themselves and white capping. The wind which was once calm is slowly starting to pick up and whip my hair around my face.
At the boat ramp, I can see commotion being caused by a lone teen and his jet ski. His bright yellow jet ski is blocking the dock, preventing anyone from being able to get off their boats and onto the dock. The other adults soon start sternly telling him to move his jet ski out of the way. Every one fears this impending storm and they are projecting it out on this teen.
“My dad told me to wait here for him to come back and to not move no matter what,” the frightened teen explains his situation to the angry adults. His reasoning for blocking the boat ramp and dock is not compelling enough to calm the small crowd gathered around him as no one seems to care about what his dad told him. Everyone is just as frightened as he is and they want to get off the lake fast as they can to escape the threat of the upcoming storm.
The frustration of the increasingly daunting situation compels my mother to speak up from the chair she sits in beside the driver’s seat, “I’m just going to jump off the front of the boat and swim to the ramp. It’s not that far.”
I sit up straighter after I hear mom say she was going to jump into the lake and swim the ten feet to the dock. I have never seen anyone swim up to the loading dock and the new experience is engrossing. Gathering the keys, her hat, and shoes, my brave mother turns and crouches at the bow of the low sitting boat. Splash! She jumps into the cool dark lake water and swims safely to the dock and pulls herself up. Looking over her shoulder she waves at Hailey, Dad, and me and heads up the hill to get the trailer to safely load up the boat to get out of the water.
I hear my father mutter something to himself, in obvious frustration of the situation as he backs up the boat from the dock to deeper waters, making more room for the increasing amount of boats piling up in search of sanctuary. By now the weather has been getting progressively worse. The sky is completely covered with the thick atramentous clouds. The wind is cooler and stronger than before and rain pours down harder like sheets coming from the crack of a whip. The lake’s waves are increasing in size causing the small blue Malibu ski boat to bounce up and down violently on the water, slamming down after each wave jarring everyone sitting in the boat. By now, each wave is crashing over itself creating an array of dispersing white toppers on the waves. The brutal rocking of the boat causes my sister and I to huddle closer together in an effort to protect ourselves from the sudden jolt and the loud smacking sound the boat makes when it hits the water repeatedly.
After circling around the boat dock for a time that seemed like an eternity, my dad realizes no one is able to get their boat off the lake because the water is too rough. We are stuck out in the lake on our small 20-foot ski boat until the storm is done with us. The wind is howling as waves reach up and crash over the side of the boat filling it with murky, dirty, and cold water. The water is pooling at my feet and the rain has turned into quarter-sized balls of hail. To protect my head from the pounding of the hail, I take two towels, one for me and one for Hailey, and put them over our heads. Each piece of hail that hits my body stings like a bee sting and the hail that falls on my head feels as if I am being hit with rocks.
As the wind, water, and hail are raging around us my dad is wrestling with the steering wheel of the boat to glide the boat up to land. My dad still does not have a life jacket on and in the fury of the storm cannot afford to let go of the steering wheel long enough to reach over and put on his life jacket. Trying to take cover under the small window shield of the boat, my dad points us directly into the wind and fury of the storm and drives to keep the bow of the boat up to prevent waves crashing up and over the boat.
I watch the scene unfold before me with bewilderment feeling terrified. The loud claps of booming thunder scare me and wills me to curl up closer to Hailey. I have never before in my life experienced something so abominable and terrifying. My heart is pounding as I squeeze my eyes shut attempting to block out the chill the storm resided in me. Everything around me is happening so fast with too much noise. The deafening sound of the wind and thunder echo throughout my body leaving me shaking.
Even with the storm raging around us threating to completely fill the boat with water, my dad makes his way to the shore. Driving against the wind he is able to pull the little blue boat up next to a much bigger pontoon boat. Thinking only of his two little girls sitting in the back seat my dad ties the ski boat to the big pontoon with big new leather seats. Only then, after my dad ties together the two boats I notice the woman with a short brown ponytail and an inviting safe voice.
My dad turns to Hailey and I and in a serious tone he says, “You’re going to climb on this pontoon and jump on the shore, okay?”
My confusion on what he just said to me must have been evident in my expression because the lady with the medium length ponytail held out her hand to me and reestablished what my dad just said, “Honey, we’re gonna get you off this boat and onto land. You can wait out the rest of the storm from the top of the hill.”
“Dad, are you going with us?” Hailey worriedly asks my dad.
“No, I am going to stay with the boat and try to keep it from sinking,” jokingly my dad adds, “The captain always goes down with his ship.”
By now the hail has faded into a heavy rain. The wind has calmed down some, but the chill of the storm is still present in the air.
I am helped onto the pontoon first before my sister because I am the youngest. My small body cannot reach the top of the pontoon from my position in the low laying ski boat. The woman reaches over and with her welcoming and warm hands she lifts me up onto her big and safe boat. The first thing I notice while standing on the more stable but still rocking pontoon boat is the big inflatable yellow and blue trampoline. I have always wanted to jump and play on one, but I have never had the opportunity to experience the tremendous fun a trampoline brings. My sister soon joins me on the big pontoon boat and we are helped onto the rocky shore by the woman with the ponytail and the kind hands and eyes.
The small sharp rocks stab into my small feet as I start to walk up the barren rocky hill with few weeds scattered across the surface. As I walk through the rain I see a white truck with a woman standing in front of it. I immediately know that truck is my family’s truck and that woman is my mom. Carefully I make my way across the rocks and up the hill. Ducking under the fence stationed at the top of the hill I am greeted with a colossal hug from my mom. Shivering I climb into the white truck for shelter from the rain.
After the storm, my dad walks up with the look of defeat on his face. My dad has lost his battle with the wrath of nature as well as his favorite possession which is the small blue speedy ski boat. His blue ski boat he loves so much now sits with three feet of water in it and dipping below the surface with no way to get it out. At the shore, many artifacts of the storm are strewn upon the beach haphazardly. There are shoes, coolers, sunscreen, and the seats of boats that had been lost in the wrath of the storm and reappeared on the shore. The destruction of the storm left an eerily quiet mood on the whole lake.
The destruction the storm brought reminds me of the fear of death when I was out in the middle of the lake alone with only two other people to protect me from the terrors of the storm. I and my sister asked my father if we would die on the boat that day because I had felt death wrap its arms around me. My father was right when he said that I would not die today. He told me in the wrath of the storm that I could not die unless he told me I could, and that day when my death will greet me is not today.
The total amount of time it took for the storm to go over the lake was about 30 minutes. I am told the storm was a tornado making its way over the lake. Throughout those 30 minutes, I experienced one of the scariest moments of my life. The storm and events swirl in my mind as I sit in the truck with my family riding home as the sky turns dark and stars start to appear. An overwhelming feeling of exhaustion washes over me. The day started out perfect, but it ended in shambles. The terror of the storm threatens to consume me again in the dark depths of my mind, but the relief of making it through the storm overcomes the lonely darkness of the night. The qualities of perseverance that has been taught to me my whole life up until now resound in my mind reminding me to find strength where it seems I have none. I drift off into a restful sleep as the truck rumbles down the road towards home and a new day.