I Don't Know Him, But I Do Know He's Alive
I just want you to know, if you’re out there and if you hear this, I’m glad you’re alive and I’ve been thinking of you.
I’ve never liked sand, or the beach. That feeling of the roughness. Or you know, after you do go into the ocean and walk on the sand, it sticks to you. It’s a feeling you can’t get rid of for the rest of the week.
It was 2002 and I was in Barbados with my family. I was 12 years old. My mom had dragged me out of my room, “If you’re going to read at least be outside.” I had finished all of my books and was now on to a novel I had picked up at the airport. Oprah’s Book Club, it said on the cover. “Well then, it must be good,” I thought to myself.
Begrudgingly, I left our apartment, my head not leaving the pages of the book. Someone was about to get hung from a tree, I had no idea why. I flipped back 4 pages and started reading again. I bumped into a parked car. “Jesseeeeeeeeeee!” my mom called out, 15 steps ahead of me. I put my thumb in my book and jogged ahead, my flip flops echoing my running, slap slap slap slap.
I hear the beach before I come to it. Not the waves, but people talking, chatting, having so much fun. We walk further down the beach, away from the noise. With each step, sand seeps in. My flip flops kick it up my legs. I walk slower. It doesn’t help.
Our blanket is set up about 15 feet from the ocean. There is one small group snorkeling, and other blanket a little bit down the beach. It’s quieter here. I retreat back into my book and breathe. I could be anywhere, but the wind flicking sand on to the blanket and rustling the pages reminds me. I finally settle into my zen state. Minutes go by, maybe an hour. This book is confusing. Suddenly, I have all these images in my head of this character in the tree. I snap my book shut and look up.
I’m still at the beach. There are more people in the water now. They look like they are standing in a circle. “MOM! LOOK!” They are holding a body, trying to carry it out of the water. My mom and I run up. “Jesse, don’t look at his face” my mom says to me, “just don’t look at his face.” We both try to help carry him. My hands are supporting one of his arms.
It’s that unspoken rule: The minute you are told not to do something, that’s all you can think of doing. I try not to look. But as soon as I try, my eyes involuntarily flick towards his head. I look at his face. It was purple. Not just redish purple or purplish red. This was the royal purple, the purple of grapes, the purple of cabbage or beets. Though we are still working to carry his body, my mind freezes and takes a mental snap shot of his face. I can’t even describe his eyes. I think there are some things your mind knows you don’t want to remember.
I see his face and I know what I need to do. I let go of his arm and I run. I run. I run.
I also yell.
“Hellllpppppppp. Please! Somebody help!!!! Emergency!!! Ambulance!!!! Helllppppp!!!” I run and I yell all the way down the beach. This time they don’t sink in. The sand doesn’t slap the back of my legs. My feet barely touch the ground.
I find someone in a uniform. I tell him. I think he said he’d call an ambulance. I run back to the blanket, the people, my mother. I say I called for help. I say that an ambulance is coming.
My mom and I pack up and walk. Again, I hear the chatter of beach-goers. It gets quieter as we get closer to our place. I hear the wind. I don’t hear an ambulance.
I sit in my room. Nothing. My feet are rough with sand, but I am still waiting. Twenty minutes later the ambulance comes.
I don’t ask if he’s alive. I’m sure he is. I know he is.
I walk to the bathroom and start to wash the sand off my feet. I take a deep breath and cry.
I know he’s alive. I’m sure of it.