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After multiple times of begging to take a quick evening swim in the ocean, Daddy finally agreed to take me, so I ran into my room and changed into my peach colored whole piece swim suit.
“You sure do love the beach huh?” His blue eyes twinkled at me and I could see the beginning of a smile underneath his mustache.
I nodded my head excitedly as we headed to Grandma and Grandpa’s beach backyard.
“Ouch!” I squealed as we walked down the splintery path.
“Shoulda worn your flip-flops Annie girl.” He glanced over to me, lighting a Winston cigarette. He took a deep breath and puffs of gray smoke came out of his nose.
I took a quick glimpse at his white, bare feet. “Daddy! So do you.”
At the end of the path, I hit the cool, grainy sand and took off running to the ocean. It looked so different in the evening. So much darker.
“Don’t go too far,” he called as he plopped down in the sand to watch me.
The water was freezing, but I didn’t hesitate to go all the way in. I ran right in to the splashing waves and dunked my head under. My chest tightened and my skin shivered at first, but soon I adjusted to the waves’ unyielding temperature.
I was always told never to go further out then the jetty, but something in me didn’t care this time. I wanted to test the ocean’s strength. Or perhaps it was my own strength. The waves crashed against the jetty’s green, mossy rocks that went out for quite a distance. But no so far that it wasn’t tempting. I had seen my father swim past it all the time. Once, I even went out there with him, safe and secure in his arms. I took a small step on the chilly sand and kept going until I could only reach on my tippy toes. A few strokes out and I could do it. My younger sister would be in awe of me for days.
I had my back turned to the ocean. Another I thought of my father’s voice, warning me. “ turn your back on the ocean, Annie, and it’ll turn its back on you.”
A wave much taller than I had ever seen came crashing down on my head, before I could even turn back. I was usually back where the waves break, but now I could see that the wave would crash over my head.
It happened all at once, but as soon as it did I felt like time was in slow motion. I was pulled down by the under-tow and even though I flailed my arms and legs in every direction, I couldn’t seem to be in control.
The water was heavier as I got deeper and deeper. My body was nothing compared to the ocean’s. Its indefinite shape kept pushing at mine.
At last the waves pushed me to the top, as if to torture me. It wanted me to take only one breath, but then push me down again. Still, I gasped for air, and could see my father. He had that look on his face. The one I saw when I told him my sister fell down the stairs, or when something bad was happening. The look scared me.
The waves pushed me up and down and I could see my father’s blue and pink striped shirt jumping in the water, fully clothed. He was swimming over to me.
I tried to scream or yell, but no sound came out. My body felt weak and tired. There was nothing else I could do, and I had to accept it. The ocean pulled at me again, and I gave up this time. I let it take me. I felt myself sinking deeper and deeper, and I was certain I was going to die.
I felt his arms on my cold, wet body and they were bringing me up for breath. My father held me close to his. I could feel his heartbeat. I was breathing in heavily. My dad could stand now, he was walking toward the sand. I could see a huge wave headed for us.
“Make it stop!” I shouted at my dad. “Make it stop.” I began to sob.
My father shook his soggy head and placed me on the sturdy, hard ground gently. The corners of his mouth were turned down and the space in-between his eyebrows was creased. He looked frightened. His blue eyes that matched the ocean looked like they were going to weep. I had never seen my father cry. He had always been this tough, impenetrable figure to me. But, not when it came to his daughters I soon realized.
“You’re going to be okay Annie,” he said in a shaky voice and I believed him.