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When I was five years old, my brother taught me how to swim. He was nine. We lived by the ocean where our parents owned a private beach house. They weren’t separated back then. Every summer we would grab our boat, my brother and I, and we would pretend to sail across the Atlantic, to somewhere far, far away from the Maine coast. Then, once we reached a certain point, he would stop the boat, take out his acoustic, and sing old Beatles songs to me while I basked there in the afternoon sun, thinking that it would last forever. I liked to think that. But the winged seraphs of Heaven lied.
I remember that summer evening perfectly; I just turned fifteen one month prior. That night I got into an argument with my mom. I was being selfish, disrespectful, and stupid when I snuck out of the house and took our dad’s boat. The stars were just beginning to come out, filling the sky and sea with twinkling diamonds. We weren’t supposed to take the boats out at night. It was a rule that I had foolishly defied. But I wasn’t thinking at the time. And it was a mistake that I wish I hadn’t made. Then maybe things would be different.
My brother caught me. “Alice, what’re you doing?” he asked. His speech sounded a little bit slurred. He probably just came back from one of his college parties. I was too livid and aggravated to notice. My common senses were masked by my abhorrence and resentment toward my parents.
“Taking Dad’s boat out,” I mumbled, digging my toes into the sand and dragging it until it looked messed up.
“Did something happen?” he asked, his face suddenly serious.
“Mom and I got into an argument. God, she’s just so STUPID and IGNORANT sometimes! It’s like when people grow up into adults they forget what it’s like to be a teen! I just… UGH!” I said ardently through clenched teeth, anger bubbling up inside me.
“You want to talk about it?”
A moment of silence. And the only thing we could hear was the sound of waves crashing toward the shore, echoing through the night. The moonlight glow was beautiful, accentuating the twinkling of the stars in the sky.
“You know what? If it makes you feel any better, I’ll sail the boat out with you. I won’t tell Mom and Dad if you won’t tell… about uhm, me and the party. Deal?”
I shrugged. “Okay.”
It was the wrong thing to say. Right there, I should have stopped and said, ‘never mind’. Then maybe things would have been different. But we both climbed into the boat. He steered. I lied there, turned my iPod on full blast until Rise Against filled my head and drowned out the frightening silence of the world.
The stars seemed to shine with intensity that I’ve never experience before. They filled the sky with masses, twinkling in the sky and being reflected into the dark waters. I closed my eyes and let the music and the sound of waves crashing onto the shore fill my head and drown out my thoughts.
“We live on front porches and swing life away. We get by just fine here on minimum wage. If love is a labor I’ll slave till the end. I won’t cross these streets until you hold my hand…”
I sung the lyrics to my favorite Rise Against song quietly to myself, singing louder and louder every time until Max and I were screaming out the lyrics. Rise Against was the greatest band ever. Our voices echoed across the ocean, and soon I forgot what I was so mad about.
We stopped singing and I took my ear buds out of my ear. It was still as silent as ever. No surprise. We were probably the only two people in the world who weren’t asleep. I got up and leaned over so I could touch the water gently with my fingertips, trying to grab the stars that fell into the water. The only foreign sound was the crashing of the tides. As if finally woken up, I suddenly realized how late and dark it was. How dangerous this was.
“Max, let’s go back,” I whispered. “Max?”
The tide hit us too quickly. The boat crashed into a rock that we didn’t see, and I fell into the freezing, bitter water. The first thing I noticed was how cold the water was. The frostiness stung into my flesh like a thousand tiny needles at once. It’s the middle of August. Why is the water so cold? I couldn’t hear anything, except for the tides crashing onto shore. The water blocked out all the sounds from above. I felt myself sliding under, gasping for breath. I’ve known how to swim since I was little. So why can’t I seem to get my body to listen to my brain now?
I wanted to scream for help. But every time I opened my mouth, pools of water would come rushing in, and no words would come out. I couldn’t see anything except leagues and leagues of darkness. I was shivering. The coldness hurt.
And the last thing I remember hearing before sinking down into the sea was The Beatle’s, “There’s A Place”. Or maybe that was only in my head…
I woke up in a hospital room. I opened my eyes, and saw my mom, my dad, and a nurse hovering over me. Instantly, I snapped up.
“Where’s Max?!” I looked around the room, my heart increasing. I began to panic, until I saw him lying on a hospital bed on the other side of the room.
“Is he okay?” I felt tears began to well up in my eyes. If something happened to him, I would never forgive myself. It would be my own, stupid fault. This never should have happened in the first place. “Mom, I’m so sorry,” I cried. “So, so sorry. I never should have gotten angry at you and I never should have taken Dad’s boat.”
She hugged me and held me in her arms. “Oh honey… we love you, you know that. I just want what’s best for you. And it may seem like we don’t understand you, but we were teenagers once, you know. We just want you to be safe! Oh honey…”
It was then, when I saw my mom’s face noticed my Dad sitting there with his face in his hands that I came to the horrible conclusion that something had happened. Something I didn’t want to think about.
No, no, no, no, no, no…. Please don’t tell me that...
“Alice, honey… Max jumped in to save you. He’s in a coma. We’re not sure when he’ll be able to come out of it. The doctor said it may be a couple of months, but…”
Sense of relief. He’s not dead. He’s not dead.
“Oh, I love you, Mom. I love you Dad.”
“I love you too, Alice. All of you. So, so much.” Then we sat that hugging each other tightly, not letting go. It was what any family would have done. We sat there crying, happiness, sadness, and joy all rolled into one, until a single ray of sunshine shone through the hospital window. I felt relieved knowing that even if everything changed, one thing would always be the same: the world will never stop spinning. No matter what. And that gave me hope.