Mom, do you remember the photo from our only family trip to the beach? The one Dad took of you? The one where you look untamed? Maybe even free? Whole?
Do you remember the day the photo was taken? The wind tickling our skin? The birds singing overhead? The soft rain washing all of our pain away? Us laughing at the feeling of the squishy sand between our toes?
Do you remember the beachgoers screaming and running when they saw me? How we tried not to notice? How you begged me to try my best not to? How, after only a few minutes after our arrival, all of the sand and water we could see was ours?
Do you remember how, then, we stood at the edge of the water and allowed the waves to roll into our ankles? How we stood surrounded by milky jellyfish corpses and broken shells and watched for fins? Ones like mine? And how I spotted one? Then a dozen? How I couldn’t stop crying? And how you hugged me? And you refused to let go? Do you? Do you, Mom?
Do you remember how hard you worked so we could just be there? How you saved all of your tips from your shifts at the diner so I could, for once, see others who looked (almost) like me? How you saved and saved so I could have that experience of not being alone in the world, even if that company could only last for three days and two nights? Even if we had to sleep in that one bed? Even if there were holes in the wall? Even if the sink didn’t drain? The bathtub didn’t fill?
Do you remember when Dad finally came out of the hotel room to join us? How we couldn’t believe it? How we ran to him? And how he backed away, but we pretended not to notice? How you asked him to take the photo? Your photo on the beach? On our beach? How, almost as soon as the flash went out and we had the memory for forever, the rain came harder? How the wind let loose? How the waves knocked you over and you hurt your knees? How you couldn’t get up and the water lapped over you? How you started coughing? Choking?
Do you remember how I tried to help? Me running to you on my thin, seven-year-old human legs? Nudging you with my tiny fins? With the rubbery tip of my nose? Me opening wide so you could grab onto one of my teeth? How that moment of me helping you actually made it worse? How I cut you? How I made you bleed?
Do you remember how scared you were of me? How it was you crying? And not me? How you were pleading? Begging? Because my nose was twitching? My pupils were dilating?
Do you remember how you squeezed your cut hand into your other one? Your clean one? Your perfect one? The one you had just tucked into mine a few minutes earlier when we’d walked along the shoreline? How you, seeing that hand could not help, dunked your bleeding one into the water? Shielded it with the rest of your body? Protected it with everything you had?
Do you remember how the sharks came to you? The entire shiver of sharks we’d spotted earlier on the horizon? Do you remember how they nipped at you? How they snapped at your body? How they tried to drag you away?
Do you remember how they looked at me when I got between them and you? What they did when they really saw me? All of me? How they ducked their heads back into the water? Their bodies straightened? Their fins went away? How fast they vanished?
Do you remember how Dad yelled at you to get up? At you to see what sharks were really like? What I would become? What I already was?
Do you remember how he stood so far away? And how he told us he couldn’t do it anymore? That he was done? That he left us alone, out in the bloody water, to drown?
Do you remember, Mom, how I finally got you up? How I saved you? How I wedged your legs into my mouth and spat you on the sand? How I only gave you a few new cuts? How you cried and cried all night on the far side of our bed? How I told you, over and over and over again, we would both be okay?