Forgive the spacing issues. I’m uploading this in a hurry. Thanks.
First day of June, 1979… Galveston Island… 17 years old…
The seagulls were flying overhead as she herself flew down the seawall on two wheels. No hands on the handlebars, feeling more free and sure of herself than she had in her entire 17 years. Counting the cracks on the pavement as the wheels crossed over each one, thulump, thulump, thulump. The consistent pattern of perfectly laid squares of concrete calmed any demons once hidden. The sea air mixed with her tears, causing her eyes to sting and her vision to blur. Her heart was broken and sad, but how good it had felt to release her final secret this morning. All was now revealed and all was made right. The freedom she now experienced had already begun to heal every hurt. She was starting to forget them both, and most of all, starting to forgive herself. Karla couldn’t have asked for anything more.
She parked her bike at Murdoch’s Souvenir Shop, just a few hundred yards from the old Balinese Room pier. She counted the shells displayed on each side of the steps, just to make sure. 6-12-18-24-30-36-40-48, 6-12-18-24-30-36-40-48. 48 plus 48 makes 96. They were all there. Once inside, Karla walked past rows and rows of souvenir t-shirts and junk made out of shells. She passed sand-covered beachgoers in their flowered swimsuits and rubber sandals. Many were just wandering so they could steal a few minutes of air conditioning, relief from the flaming Galveston sun. An old man was maneuvering a wheelchair through the maze of shelving and clothing racks, his passenger wife pointing and barking orders of which way to turn. “No, not that way! We’ve already been that way!” Through the breezeway, across the back wall was a display of swim rings, goggles and floats in all colors. Karla chose a purple float, of course. Donny Osmond’s favorite color.
She browsed some more, hoping to find a small gift of thanks for her mother. Many creative items sat on the shelves to choose from. Jewelry boxes, canisters, home décor. They all said “Galveston Island” on them, so she took her float to the cashier’s booth at the front of the store. She didn’t need a stupid memento, neither did her mother. There were too many god awful memories associated with this place. After graduation, Karla was planning to sit down with her mother and grandmother and talk them into selling the house and moving away. Not far away, but just far enough to make a fresh start. It was going to take a lot of persistence, but Karla now had it in her.
She arrived at the beach around one o’clock in the afternoon. The party was already in full swing, I Will Survive playing in the background. Karla had grown up during the 1970’s in Galveston, Texas. Life was all about obsessions, the things she knew so well: numbers, commercial jingles, and TV theme songs. Today was a celebration of how hard she and her friends had worked getting through high school. It was Senior Day at the beach, an annual event held after commencement. The seniors and their chaperones had driven to the beach and were enjoying the surf before vacationers from all parts of the country arrived on the weekend. Why people traveled from far away to swim in the murky, gray waters of the Gulf instead of the baby blue waters of the Caribbean was a puzzle to Karla. Soon all schools in the area would let out, and the shores would be crowded with sunburned and cranky tourists.
So glad Mrs. Cain is here, thought Karla. Mrs. Cain was Karla’s mentor and friend, an obsession of hers for over a year. Karla looked to her for advice and guidance. She had kept lots of secrets from Mrs. Cain in the past, and for that she was very sorry. That was going to change. From now on, no more secrets.
Remembering Mrs. Cain’s words from yesterday, Karla slowly approached the water. “Karla, you are loved. You have your whole life ahead of you. I want you to start living it—for Him.” Karla was afraid of the beach. Ever since she had seen the movie “Jaws”, she had been terrified of the ocean, especially the Gulf of Mexico. It held many dark secrets. Everyone else was going swimming. Donna, Karla’s best friend, was in the water, yelling at her to come in. Karla was not a strong swimmer, but the group appeared to be close to shore, in waist-level water. They were standing up. What Karla didn’t know was that her friends were actually standing on a sandbar.
Karla took her purple float and waded in, ankle-deep, then waist-deep. The sharp, broken shells in the sand cut her feet when she entered the water. The water was quite cool, sending a sharp rush of chills through her body. No excuse. Get in. I cannot look afraid.
Why was the water now up to her chest? She didn’t like the way the bottom felt, the seaweed wrapping around her legs. Karla got on top of the float to avoid it. There was also the uncertainty of what else was below the surface of the dirty water. God only knows what creatures are swimming around me. She thought she saw a fish go by, but it was only the price tag of the float dangling in the water.
Karla began to paddle towards her friends. Suddenly, a large wave knocked her off the float. When she turned around to grab it, she realized that she was actually in very deep water. Karla kicked her feet and flailed her arms, but she was going nowhere. She was caught in the undertow, like a drain in a kitchen sink. It was sucking at her feet, causing her toes to point downward. It seemed like forever, the desperate kicking of feet and slapping of hands, the gasps for air, and the spittle of saltwater. Then the flailing stopped. Her body began to spin and twist like a corkscrew. No one seemed to notice as she stopped fighting for her life. She was out of energy. She was giving up.
The other kids had not heard Karla’s screams for help. They had been splashing, yelling, and laughing with delight. But as always, someone came to her rescue.
“Give me your hand!”
“Come on, Karla! Kick harder! You can do it!” the woman pleaded with the exhausted girl. “You’re almost here!”
This has to work, Karla tried to convince herself. But Mrs. Cain, the object of her obsession for so long, the woman who could do no wrong in her eyes, was not getting any closer. “Help me! I’m going to drown! I’m going to drown!” The ocean is punishing me after all.
“Have faith! I know you can do it! Remember what we talked about this morning!” The woman looked up to the sky, “Please! God, help us!”
By some miracle, Karla finally reached her. Josie grabbed her hand. “Good! Now, don’t let go! You’re going to be okay!”
Karla sank under the water and hit her head on her knee. Trying to compete with the sound of the crashes of the waves, the girl bawled when she came to the surface, “Don’t leave me! Just don’t leave me!” The woman never had before.
“I won’t leave you, if I have to die trying to save you! Now, kick as hard as you can! Come on!”
Karla and Josie continued to battle the strong Galveston undertow. Josie cradled the girl’s neck in her arm as she swam parallel to the shore. Karla had been named after a hurricane which attacked this very beach in 1961. Touché. Josie tried to keep the girl awake and alert by pleading with her to keep her head up, to look toward the sky, telling her how much God loved her and wanted her to live. Josie began to doubt that they would ever return to the beach alive. Karla was talking in circles, asking for forgiveness from Josie and then from God. She convinced the young girl to pray with her, to ask for God’s help. And then, “Keep kicking, Karla.”
But after a while, it was no use. Josie’s body became still from exhaustion. Her body felt like lead. She could barely keep the two of them afloat. The sun was blinding her, and she felt like she was going to pass out at any moment. She wasn’t going to be able to save herself and Karla after all. She wasn’t even sure the girl was conscious until she heard her mutter, “I love you, Mrs. Cain.”
Somehow, they became separated in the water. Karla had let go.
“No!” Josie screamed. “No!”
A huge wave flipped Karla up and farther out, toward the endless ocean. She was sucked under the water again, mindlessly grasping at pieces of seaweed as they floated by. She was yelling something. Josie couldn’t hear the words above the ocean’s roar. The struggling stopped again. Karla’s legs folded underneath her, forcing her into a kneeling position. She took a deep, deliberate breath. Several waves washed over her as she experienced a split-second presentation of memories: smells, tastes, feelings, and sounds. As her body plunged underwater yet again, her mentor’s arms disappeared from sight.
Wave after wave, Karla’s life review began.