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“Shh… ahhh, Shh… ahhh.” The waves crash from the turquoise ocean. The white sand squishes through my toes as I walk along the beach. My eyes are focused on the water and the surrounding islands. I’ve never seen a sight so beautiful. The golden sun sets behind Tortola and dims the Caribbean Sea. Sitting in the sand and letting the waves wash my mind away, I’ve never been closer to the illusion of paradise, but the helicopters propellers buzz far above my head in search of the boys that had been swept away by the current. The realization hits me.
“Dad! C’mon. I’ve been waiting for like five whole minutes,” I say being the impatient eleven year old I am.
“Alright, alright. I’m coming. Just let me get my flippers, and I’ll meet you in the water,” he says followed by a sigh and a smile. My feet take off running with all my might, flippers in hand, into the bluest ocean. The warmth touches my exposed skin and as I slip my flippers over my tiny feet and secure my goggles and snorkel. I make a grunting noise signaling for my dad to hurry up. As I swim around in the shallows, a brave fish roams around while shells and coral cover the sea floor.
Finally my dad splashes into the water. He moves his hand and signals me to follow. We swim deeper and deeper into the ocean. Under the water is gorgeous. Coral reefs teemed with tropical fish. Deep blues and greens, yellows and oranges fill the plastic lenses of my mask. I follow my dad to the right and he points between two giant rocks. At first there’s just water, but I focus my vision and see a giant green sea turtle.
“Huuuuh… pfffff…” as I breathe through my snorkel. My eyes shift to focus on a little clown fish. He plays amongst the coral in pure fright as I approach him. Then suddenly the clown fish is gone and a giant wave sweeps me away. Vision blurred by a thick field of bubbles, my arm smacks into a huge rock and scrapes. My snorkel fills with water leaving me no longer able to breath, but it doesn’t stop me from trying. As I inhale salty water hits the back of my throat making me gag. Eyes closed, I move my flippers as furiously in an effort to escape, accomplishing nothing. It’s useless, the water’s too powerful.
It feels as if time freezes when I open my eyes. I’m paralyzed. The bubbles move slowly, swirling, then sift apart, and below me my turtle emerges. And then SMACK. A second later the bubbles resume and I hit the ocean floor. My sun burned body lands in a pile of coral, broken shells, and barnacles. I send wet sand flying everywhere blurring the water, covering the bubbles. The snorkel falls from my lips, it’s useless anyway. The waves roll me in and out, slowly moving me toward the near shore. The burning exacerbates as the blood from my arm meets the salt water. My arms extend and reach out to clutch the sand, hoping to hold me in place but it just seeps through loose fingers. Closing my eyes tight again, I feel it.
Warm air hits my skin in brief segments. It touches my face and I open my mouth gasping in a mouthful of air. The wave pushes me, and I roll out onto the rough white sand. Leaving my eyes closed praying that another wave won’t come and sweep me away, I reach up and touch my scraped nose.
My body is covered in sand and lacerated from coral and jagged shells. What once was pony tailed hair has become undone and sticks to my face. I plant my feet down into the sand and steady to stand up. Dizziness hits, but over all I’m okay. I scan the beach in search of my dad as he climbs out of the sea wearing a worried look. “Dad!” I attempt to scream.
“There you are! I thought you were dead!” he says scanning the damages that cover me as I sit with him on the beach and tell him what happened. His hand gets near my cut, but I flinch away in fear of the pain. “Are you okay?”
“Yea, I guess,” I say in attempt to sound convincing.
“Good, because the only way to get back is to swim. Just follow me this time and stay away from the rocks.”
Feeling lucky to be alive, I gaze out over the dark sea. The Coast Guard helicopter continues to fly back and forth in search of the last boy or rather, his body. My gut pangs with sadness. They had found three, but the fourth was still missing. Reaching up to my nose to feel the rough skin, thoughts rush through my mind. That could have been me. I could have died. Just two hours earlier, those boys had climbed into the same water I had been. He had no chance.
Maybe it was the turtle that saved me. Old Native American stories tell of the turtle as a symbol of love and protection. Maybe my turtle protected me. I pick up a smooth pebble and toss it into the ocean. “Thank you,” I whisper to my turtle. I get up and take in the ocean’s smell. And as the salt fills my nose, I turn my back on the water whispering once more. “Goodbye.”