I just kicked -- creative nonfiction by Anthony Macdonald
I looked out from the bow of the boat to the curved island. We sat in the calm bay where we were sheltered from the choppy ocean. The beach that outlined the face of the island pointing towards us shone in the sun. The rounded top was covered with yellowish-green grass which stretched down to the beachline that swayed in the wind. The island was no longer than a few hundred feet. The left end of the bay was armored by a rounded cliff with splintered pillar-like rocks jutting out of the bottom as if a massive cannonball had been shot into the island. The other side of the island ended with a few rocks peeking out of the water. I could hear the waves rhythmically slapping against them as they sprayed water droplets into the air. I walked to the main part of the boat where my uncle and two cousins were getting their equipment ready. I connected the cylindrical air-filled tank to the inflatable vest with the respirator attached and threw it over my back.
I walked to the very stern of the boat and took a step, dropping into the water. It engulfed me as the salty, deathly taste of the ocean seeped through my lips that were resting around the respirator of my scuba set. I heard nothing but the hollow hissing of my respirator as the heavy gear pulled me to the bottom of the seafloor. I saw the light slowly fade around me as my skin-tight suit glued itself to every part of my body. I reached the barren bottom and hovered my body parallel to the bright yellow floor of the sea. I looked away from the yellow slope of sand that inclined towards the welcoming island and looked toward the deathly pale gray sand that descended into a hazy cloud. My two younger cousins and uncle swam with me along the bottom to find our dive site, the Rhone. The Rhone was a ship that got trapped on the sea when a hurricane hit the British Virgin Islands. It never made it to the safe bay of the main islands and cracked in half on the rocks that barely stuck out of the water on one end of the island we were at. I slowly followed the shelf that we were on. As we neared the barrier of rocks that sank the Rhone and separated us from the ocean we still couldn’t see the ship. My uncle stuck his thumb down, telling me and my cousins to go further down.
We swam away from the island and the welcoming golden sand down towards the pale seemingly unending haze. Weird. I could hear the water running by me in my ears, but the undercurrent at the bottom of the ocean was never supposed to be strong. The Rhone was nowhere in sight so we decided to swim even deeper along the rock barrier into the nothingness. I grasped both my arms while I kicked as if I was in a coffin. I wanted to keep the warmth inside my suit while we descended along the shelf. Still no Rhone. Nothing but the occasional piece of seaweed floated by while we searched. We didn’t swim around much as the desolate seafloor made it impossible to tell where we were, and we didn’t want to get lost. One of my cousins touched my shoulder and pointed at his air gauge. It was a quarter full. I stuck my thumb up and signaled to my other cousin and uncle that we had to go up. It was annoying that we hadn’t found the Rhone. We’d have to go all the way back to the main islands and refill our tanks with air before going back to find it.
We all slowly kicked up towards the surface, making sure that the air in our lungs didn’t expand as we climbed, which could stretch them. I searched for the boat where we had dove off of but it wasn’t in sight. I saw nothing but the black cliffside that capped one end of the island, except it was on my right now. Oh Fuck. I threw my respirator over my shoulder to save the air I had left in my tank, but as I put my snorkel on, I got hit with a wave. The dark blue wave smacked my face as water flowed into my mouth and nose and right down my throat. I tasted the deathly salt again as I inflated my vest with air from my tank and popped up above the water.
My uncle was already swimming one of my cousins back towards the boat. I whipped my head around and saw my other little cousin looking at me. The only thing I remember from looking at him were his eyes. I looked at him and saw nothing in his dark blue irises. There wasn’t any fear, no emotion, just an empty body looking at me. He did nothing but stare and slowly drift as he floated away. I also froze. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t leave him behind. I couldn’t go back down to the bottom where the current was weaker. My cousin didn’t have enough air left to go back under the water, and he was floating off into the ocean. I did the only thing that I could think of. I turned my body and swam with the current toward my cousin. I reached him and grabbed him. I looked into those dead eyes again. Nothing.
I rotated him so his back was facing me and grabbed the plastic handle on the back of his vest. I turned on my back and started kicking. My cousin sat between my legs. Deadweight. I could hear the staggered and sharp hissing coming from his respirator. I told him to take it out so he wouldn’t suffocate. He listened. Good, he isn’t dead.
The waves were much bigger than when we first went under. There was no island shielding us from the ocean anymore. Every wave crashed over my face, which was now pointed up towards the now hazy sky. I didn’t feel anything but that damn salty taste that now infected my throat, slowly drying it out. I couldn’t do anything but kick as the rhythmic waves made a drum out of the back of my head. I tried to lift my head so that the water didn’t wash over it. I was in a war where I couldn’t fight with my hands. I wanted to turn around and slap the waves back. But I couldn’t, so I kicked. Every time I broke a wave there was another one there waiting to batter me. I kept kicking. I fought through every wave, acting as the bow of the boat for the floating body my arms clung to, splitting every wave with the back of my head. I could feel the current under the surface sliding the frigid water past my exposed ankles. Still, I kept kicking. I turned my head around and held my breath as a wave clapped against my goggles. For the brief second between waves where the water finished running off of my goggles, I saw the sharp rocks jutting out from the bottom of the cliff to my 5 o’clock where they had been when I came up out of the water. So I still had two options: kick, or don’t.
I could just let go. I could float with the waves off into the ocean, but I thought about how long I would be just sitting there with waves washing over my face, the deathly salty taste taking control of my mouth while the current carried me wherever it wanted. The currents would take me away from the choppy waves and the gray, hazy sky. I’d look up and just imagine I was back home, laying on the grass, looking up at the towering pine trees that sprawled over my backyard. Paradise.
But I had to survive, not for me but for so many other people. So I kept kicking. I kicked not only for my cousin but for his dad. I kicked for his brother, his mom, and his two dogs waiting for him back at his house. I kicked for my dad and mom waiting back on the ship. I kicked for my dog and sister waiting back home. And I kicked for myself. I didn’t want to die. The weird thing? I slipped into a state where I was in a different place. The throbbing in my legs went away. I no longer felt my body struggling to kick my legs. It felt like I no longer controlled them. They worked themselves. The cold water suctioned to my body by the suit seemingly filtered out.
I don’t know how long I kicked for, but I remember letting go of my cousin as he was grabbed from my arms. I looked around. We were back in the bay now, and the waves had calmed down. He was dragged back to the ship and hoisted up by his vest straps onto the boat. I slowly kicked over to the boat. I wrapped my fingers around the steel ladder that dropped off the left side of the boat and just floated. I survived, but it didn’t feel like it. I sat there in the water. I just felt nothing. My legs were too tired to move and my arms ached from dragging my cousin. I felt nonexistent in the water. A dead body bobbing up and down with the waves.
Anthony Macdonald is a sophomore at Weston High School. He never used to like writing but recently found out he could have fun with it after writing about his personal experiences.