(The Red Dress Writing Club Prompt for 2/22)
Growing up in South Florida, I spent many a weekend on my father’s boat. We fished, we snorkeled, we camped, we picnicked…we did just about everything that could be done in the warm waters of the Atlantic.
One of my most vivid memories associated with these weekend fishing trips was the time my dad took me out fishing off a small island in the Ragged Keys. It was a very small island and we went there more often than any of the others. Although it wasn’t inhabited, it had been at some point and the docks remained intact (there were remnants of buildings but they had long been demolished by the past hurricanes and eroded by the salty air).
I have three younger sisters and two cousins that are very close in age and there was usually a gaggle of us on those trips…I don’t recall why, but on this particular trip, it was just my father and I. I always cherished those times when I had my dad all to myself – being such a large family, it was rare to have the undivided attention of either of my parents and I always appreciated it when I did.
I recall that it was dark and that we were fishing off the island and my father had to go to the bathroom. We docked on the island and he left me on the boat while we made his way out of my eyesight. To my 10 year old mind (or somewhere around that age), he left me on that boat, in the darkness, surrounded by what I imagined to be shark infested waters, for an eternity.
This memory has stuck with me throughout my entire life. I had such an overactive imagination as a child. The moon shone down on the waves, and each crest became a shark fin. The scurrying of the 100 or so hermit crabs I caught during the day, desperate to escape the boat – they became poisonous sea urchins, crawling over the side of the boat to sting me. Each time a piece of sea weed struck the side of the boat, I shrieked, convinced that it was a blood thirsty barracuda, trying to capsize my small boat to feast on my body.
I imagined that my father was murdered by island inhabitants, eaten by crocodiles, swallowed up into quicksand…each rustle in the brush on the edge of the island became a thousand crabs coming to get me…I was absolutely, without a doubt, completely terrified.
To this day, I have no idea how such an ordinary event so quickly escalated out of control in my mind. An ordinary situation, a place I had been a hundred times, became a terrifying, dangerous place to me, simply because it was without sunlight. When my dad came back to the boat, I was horrified out of my mind. I seem to remember him teasing me about having to go home early because I just couldn’t take one more minute on the boat.
What happened? I really have no idea. I’ve always had a slight fear of the dark. Left alone, in the middle of nowhere, that fear became all consuming and my mind automatically pictured every worst-case scenario.
20-something years later, I realize how silly it all was. Of course none of those things were going to happen, and I was just as safe sitting on that boat at night as I was during the day.
But I’ll tell you something…I’ve never gone out on the water after sunset again.