The day began simply, as every other morning of my life had started out, but something was different today. A certain sense of adventure hung in the air, for I was about to achieve my biggest dream.
It wouldn’t be until hours later that I realized just how great of an adventure I was about to embark upon, and just how much I would learn in the process.
I was about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.
I awoke and saw the sunlight streaming through the prism hanging near my window, casting rainbows across the avocado-colored rug near my bed. I stretched and basked in the light coming through my blinds before putting my feet onto the rug and kicking my slippers out from under my bed. The smell of French toast, which my parents were cooking in the kitchen, wafted into my room, and I noticed how hungry I was.
My faithful golden retriever, Sammy, was lying on the rug at the foot of my bed. He wagged his tail happily as I walked across the floor and patted him on the head before leaving my room.
If I had known the fate which I would meet later that very day, my morning ritual would have been a little different.
I smiled to myself as I peered out my window. I could hardly contain my excitement, for later that day, I was going to go on a boat and travel to an island in the middle of the ocean! It would be the first time I’d ever spent a night away from home, and I could hardly wait for this freedom!
Initially, my parents had been apprehensive about letting me do this, but I knew I was capable of handling it. I was sixteen years old and I needed some freedom – something my parents had never really given me, being as straight-laced and uptight as they were. They finally gave in, giving me permission to travel to the island on a boat captained by one of their best friends, who probably played a large part in persuading them that I should go.
For a long time, I’d wanted to visit the nearby island chain, which was about about a day’s trip from shore. I had saved my money for this trip for a very long time, and thankfully, my parents’ friend, Captain Holden, had offered a discount, saying that he had never been to the islands either and was looking for an excuse to go.
Why did I want to go to this island? Well, when I was twelve years old, I read Treasure Island for the first time, and immediately felt a connection with the main character, Jim Hawkins. The further I got into the book, the stronger my desire became to camp out on an island, even if it was only overnight. It just sounded so magical, so adventurous, so fun! Being on an island, practically alone, watching the stars overhead, trying to survive and keep yourself safe – I could hardly imagine anything better or more amazing than that.
But after experiencing the real thing, I would think differently.
That morning, I walked into the kitchen and greeted Mom and Dad. They were both at the table, dipping pieces of bread in an egg mixture and then cooking the bread on our griddle. A stick of butter and a bottle of maple syrup sat on the table near a glass of orange juice.
“Good morning, honey! We decided to make you your favorite breakfast before your trip!” Dad said with a smile.
“Make sure you eat healthy food while you’re staying on the island.” Mom told me.
“Mom, I’m just going to be gone for a few days! If I did eat junk food or something, it’s not like it would really make a difference.”
The look Mom replied with said a million things, most of all, the traditional ‘I’m your mother and I care about you, so don’t get on my case about what I remind you to do’.
After eating the French toast, which was delicious, I hurried upstairs to get ready to go, and to add a few more things to the duffel bag I’d packed the prior night.
Inside the worn blue duffel, I had packed a rope, two notebooks, a new pack of pens, a canteen, socks, a spare outfit, a toothbrush and toothpaste, my hairbrush, bug repellent, camera, and a few other adventure supplies and items, including my well-worn copy of Treasure Island.
In addition to the duffel bag, I also packed a sleeping bag and tent in a separate bag. Captain Holden would be bringing the food and water for us, and Mom had made some sandwiches, so I didn’t have to worry about those two necessities.
I raced down the staircase, eager to be off on my adventure. My parents were going to drive me to the docks, which were only a few miles from our house. I had spent many happy afternoons there, watching the waves and the ships coming and going, thinking of all the wonderful places they’d traveled. I could have easily ridden my bike to the docks that day, but my parents wanted to see me off safely on my adventure and insisted on coming.
The car ride was brief, and at the time, I was thankful for this. I wanted to get to the docks as soon as possible, mostly because I was excited, but also because my parents nagged me the entire car trip about what I had to do.
“Don’t swim at night. Sharks attack most commonly at night.” Dad warned.
“Don’t fall down any holes in the ground! You could break a bone.” Mom said, sounding overly paranoid.
“Behave for Captain Holden. Don’t be stubborn.” Dad continued.
“Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want us to know about.” Mom lectured.
Believe me, the ride there was by no means pleasant, but if I had known that I would not see my parents again for quite some time, I would not have rolled my eyes at their comments and sat silently in the corner, insisting that I was already aware of everything they were telling me.
We arrived at the dock and Dad pulled into a parking space between a bright red speedboat on a trailer and a convertible. I remember thinking how gaudy the red boat was as I grabbed my duffel bag from the back seat. I handed the sleeping bag and tent over the front seat, where Dad picked them up and carried them from the car.
I was wearing an old pair of tennis shoes, jean shorts, and a yellow t-shirt. It was a bright, humid July morning, and the Florida sun beat down hard upon my back. I was glad that I’d brought as much sunscreen as I did, although thankfully, my skin doesn’t burn easily.
My mousy brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail, the most practical style for it to be in for this adventure. I figured that if my hair was put up, it wouldn’t get in my face and bother me while I was hunting for shells or climbing trees or pretending I was Jim Hawkins.
I walked down the docks far ahead of my parents, a little embarrassed that they were here with me. After all, I was sixteen, and I didn’t see any reason for them to treat me like a baby by having to come everywhere with me. I wanted to show them that I was independent and could do things on my own.
We neared Captain Holden’s charter boat, an older ship named The Hula. The Hula shimmered brightly in the sun and reflected the glittering waves of the water upon her hull, and it almost looked as though the metal of the boat was alive, like a wild animal in motion.
Captain Holden, a middle-aged man with slightly graying blond hair and blue eyes that shone like sunlight, smiled brightly from the deck when he saw me approaching.
“Well, hello there, Tami! It’s a fine day for sailing, isn’t it?”
I was grinning from ear to ear, so excited to finally be going on the adventure I had dreamed of for so long.
“Definitely!” I exclaimed.
I hurried towards the edge of the dock and grabbed the railing of the boat, pulling myself onto the boat and over the crevice between the boat and the dock. From here, I climbed over the railing and onto the deck. As I walked across the deck of the ship, I squinted my eyes against the glare of the sun, and, remembering that I’d brought my sunglasses, I put them on. I could feel the gentle rocking motion of the boat beneath my feet.
A minute or two later, my parents caught up with me and smiled at Captain Holden, who was checking some things in the cockpit of the boat in preparation for our trip.
The Hula was a fairly small boat and contained several small cabins below deck, a kitchen, and a bathroom. The Hula was somewhere around 60 feet long, with a flybridge extending over the deck. Below the flybridge was the cockpit where Captain Holden captained the boat, and outside of this area were some white vinyl seats. Several life jackets stood out starkly against the crisp clean white of the boat.
Captain Holden strode over towards the edge of the boat and put down the ramp so that my parents could enter the boat. His forehead was covered in sweat and his skin was browned by the sun, a hue which contrasted his white captain’s outfit.
My parents stepped onto the boat. Dad put the tent down.
“Thanks again for deciding to take Tami on this trip.” Dad said.
Captain Holden smiled and replied,
“I’ve been waiting to see the island for such a long time myself, and when Tami mentioned that she wanted to go and explore it, I couldn’t help but accept.” He looked over at me. “You bring your camera, Tami?”
“Yes! I put it in a plastic bag to protect it from water.” I announced happily.
Captain Holden, Mom, and Dad all smiled at me.
I was absolutely elated. I was about to go on the biggest adventure of my life.
On the top deck was a long, coiled rope, which was attached to the anchor. I entered the cockpit and saw a large steering wheel and a variety of controls. I immediately thought that captaining a boat must be a difficult job, because you probably had to pay attention to all of these dials and things all at the same time.
I walked back out into the sunlight and saw my parents talking to Captain Holden. Almost as soon as I reached them, Captain Holden looked at his watch and said,
“Well, it’s nearly time for us to be off. Tami, say your goodbyes to your parents now.” Looking at Mom and Dad, he added, “And remember, be here at the same time in two days to pick Tami up. I have more clients scheduled for that day, and if you’re not early enough, your daughter will have to walk home.”
Mom and Dad nodded, seeming saddened by my departure. I smiled at them reassuringly. I wasn’t at all afraid of spending a few nights away from them, despite the fact that I had never spent the night away from them once, not even for a sleepover when I was growing up.
I was happy to finally be embracing freedom.
On my adventure, I planned on exploring the island, pretending I was a castaway, taking pictures, and making notes about everything. When school started back up again, I would write my summer report about this trip.
Little did I know I’d have so much to tell.
My parents stood there in the sun, smiling at me as we embraced and said our goodbyes.
“I love you, sweetie!” Dad said, his voice filled with emotion.
“Have a great time and be careful!” Mom said, sounding a little like she was holding back tears. “I love you.”
“I love you guys too. Now, have a good time! I don’t want you sitting around the house being all boring and stuff, crying about the fact that I’m on an adventure. I’ll have a great time, I can assure you! And be sure to play with Sammy, or he’ll get lonely.”
My parents and I hugged once again, and they walked down the ramp and back onto the dock. Captain Holden untied the boat from the dock. Then he walked into the cockpit and started the boat’s motor. We slowly began to pull away from the dock, leaving my parents smiling and crying and waving at me.
“We love you!” They shouted.
“I love you guys too!” I shouted back over the roaring of the engines.
The boat slowly got farther and farther away from the shore, and in no time at all, we were cruising at an average speed.
The wind whipped my hair around, and I was thankful for my sunglasses, or else the wind would have stung my eyes as well. It was a little harder to breathe with all the air rushing into my nostrils, so I turned to the side a little and looked over the edge of the boat, grinning from ear to ear.
I was finally free! After sixteen years of being confined by my parents, of only dreaming of adventure, of having to listen to everything they told me, I was finally on my own, and I was sure I was going to have a marvelous time.
The ocean was a crisp, clear, sparkling blue, and the sky was nearly cloudless. The sun beat down warm against my skin, but the breeze was contrastingly cooler.
I glanced back at Captain Holden, who smiled at me from the flybridge.
At this point, I thought back on when I first conceived this dream of mine.
At twelve, being an avid reader, I had heard of the book Treasure Island and decided to give it a try. It was a classic, and I loved adventure stories, so I was sure that I would enjoy it.
Well, I did more than enjoy it. I loved it so much that all I wanted to do was to live and breathe it. For a while, it was all I thought about, all I dreamed about. Everything I did during the day was somehow preparation for a similar adventure that I vowed I would go on. I started swimming in the neighborhood pool almost daily, in case while I was on an adventure, I had to swim a long distance. I climbed trees, in case it was a skill I would need to be an expert at sometime on an adventure. I ran laps in the neighborhood to build up my strength and stamina. I read every book in the library about treasure, pirates, adventures, survival, camping, sailing, and basically every other subject that would be useful for someone on an adventure. I watched as many adventure films as possible – Indiana Jones, Robinson Crusoe, Pirates of the Caribbean – you name it, and I watched it, eagerly taking tips from my heroes about what to do, and more importantly, what not to do.
Anyways, by the time I’d finished reading Treasure Island, I had made a vow to myself that I would do something similar. I mean, obviously, I didn’t want to go through the whole pirate war thing like Jim Hawkins had to do in Treasure Island. But still, the freedom of being on an island, the freedom of being who you were and doing exactly as you pleased looked especially wonderful to someone like me. I pictured long days spent basking in the sun on the beach, climbing trees, swimming in the ocean, finding food on the island, and hopefully, finding buried treasure.
I told my parents about my idea soon after I finished the book, and they passed it off as a mere childhood fantasy. But I was sure of what I wanted, despite the fact that my parents thought I was just a little too inspired by a book I had read.
I was more than inspired; I was obsessed.
Staying on an island, even if it was only overnight, became my primary dream. As four years passed, my interest in this idea remained just as strong, if not stronger, than it was the day I’d conceived it.
When my 16th birthday came along, my parents asked me what I wanted.
“I want to spend a night on an island.” I replied, which was the same response I had given them every year since I was twelve.
There was a difference this year though. Now that I was sixteen, they had to acknowledge that I was growing up. After all, I was now old enough to drive a car by myself, which meant more freedom for me. But my parents didn’t like the idea of me driving, as they thought that I was still too young to drive and therefore, had refused to teach me how to drive until I was the ripe age of seventeen. I was angry at them for this, thinking they were holding me back and were trying to keep freedom from me. It seemed as though they wanted to keep me close because they were afraid of letting me spread my wings, make my own decisions, and go out in the world.
When I announced to them that I still wanted to spend a night on an island, I was met with disapproving looks. Because I knew how strongly they opposed the idea of me driving, I added,
“Either that, or you teach me how to drive.”
It wasn’t as much a wish as it was a threat. It was, in my opinion, a surefire way to convince them to let me get what I truly wanted. If they thought spending the night on an island was dangerous, it was nothing in comparison to what they thought of me driving.
My parents talked about my idea for a long, long time, and I waited outside their bedroom door, listening as hard as I could to hear what they were saying, but their words were muffled and I only heard some of it.
“Responsible…not sure….dangerous…adventure…I was her age…she can’t…”
But when they left their room (and by this time, I had gone back to my room, not wanting them to know that I’d been eavesdropping), they told me they had come to the conclusion that I could spend one night on an island, to which I’d be taken to by our longtime family friend, Captain Holden.
I was so excited that I immediately started packing, although it was nearly two months before I was actually scheduled to go on the trip.
A few weeks prior to my departure date, Mom and I had gone to Target and bought me a nice one-piece bathing suit, which was shiny and blue like the ocean.***
Now, the boat tore through the water, and I was filled with a childlike sense of wonder that all of this was finally happening. With every minute that passed out there in the big blue ocean, the happiness inside of me only increased, as did the full realism that I was on my way to achieving my dream. I had made it happen, and this pleased me more than I could describe.
The ocean zoomed past us so quickly that it felt like we were flying, which was one of the most exhilarating sensations I’d ever experienced.
We cruised like this for some time, crashing through the waves and heading towards the island, and the entire time, I stood near the side of the ship. My happiness was so overwhelming that I could do little but stand there and soak it all in.
Captain Holden and I would spend that night on the boat and reach the island the day after. Then we’d stay on the island overnight, and return home the day after that. I looked forward to sleeping in my sleeping bag under the stars, basking in the sacredness of the moonlight and inhaling the sweet island breezes.
For three days, I’d be living my dream.
“How are you enjoying your trip?” Captain Holden asked me when he stopped the boat around lunchtime.
“Today is the best day of my life!” I exclaimed, smiling at him.
The rest of the day passed fairly uneventfully. I saw a pod of dolphins jumping from the waves, and although it wasn’t the first time I’d seen dolphins in the wild, it was incredibly thrilling.
As the day neared its end, the sky began to glow orange and yellow, and the sun sank down upon the horizon like a pat of butter melting on mashed potatoes.
Captain Holden slowed the boat to a complete stop and went down into the kitchen, which is called a galley on a boat, to get out the sandwiches my parents had made us.
I sat cross legged on the deck, looking at the stars that were just beginning to appear in the darkening sky. The boat rocked gently, and peace filled every bit of me. Is this what true perfection was? I wondered this as I sat there, breathing deeply, fully immersed in the moment.
A minute later, Captain Holden returned to the deck with the sandwiches. I removed my canteen from my duffel and sat down near the edge of the boat to eat my toasted cheese sandwich. The sandwich was cold by this time, which was actually nice because I had spent all day in the heat.
“Your parents are good chefs.” Captain Holden said, taking a bite of his toasted cheese sandwich.
I shrugged and took a bite of mine.
“I guess so.” The reluctance in my voice was blatant.
“You seem a little angry every time I mention them.” He observed.
I looked out at the ocean and nodded.
“Well, my entire life, they’ve never let me have any independence. I mean, I’m not mad at them, just annoyed. They’ve always told me what to do, and I’ve always had to do it. Anything that I wanted to do had to be scrutinized by them. If I befriended someone, they wanted to meet them immediately. Several times, they told me I couldn’t be friends with a certain person because they feared they’d be a bad influence.”
“They were probably right in their judgment.”
“Yeah right! They just want to control every aspect of my life. They don’t let me choose anything for myself. If I see something I want at the store, even if it’s just a shirt, usually they try to convince me to get something different. I’m lucky I can even ride my bike anywhere. And that’s one of the reasons I’m so happy to be on this trip – for the first time in my life, they’re not right behind me, telling me what’s wrong and right. For the first time in my life, I actually get to make my own choices.”
Captain Holden nodded his head.
“I remember what it was like to be sixteen.” He said. “Everyone in the world seems to be against you, especially your own parents. You want to get out in the world, change things, have a good time, and make your choices by yourself. You want to decide for yourself what’s right and wrong, and live your life the way you want to. But everyone seems like they’re trying to stop you. Everyone’s just getting in your way, preventing you from doing the things you need to do. Nobody seems to understand how you feel, and you can’t explain it even if you wanted to. You just want your life to begin; you want to discover who you are. And it’s a struggle to find your way. But I want to tell you the two greatest things that I wished I’d known at your age. First, often times, your parents are right, even if you don’t think so at the time. Sometimes they’re not, but a lot of times, they are. All of us adults were sixteen once; all of us know what it’s like. The only reason your parents act like they do is because they love you.”
I rolled my eyes, not wanting to hear someone preach to me about what I should think about my parents and making excuses for why they were so paranoid.
“Second, you know a lot more than you think you do. A wise person once said that ‘life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself’. Trust in yourself, believe in your abilities, and everything will be okay. You can always find your way if you look in the right places and do what you know you need to do. You’ve got to follow your heart. Because when you believe in yourself, you can accomplish anything.”
The last thing he said really struck a chord with me, and I finished my sandwich in silence, mulling over them. For the first time in my life, an adult had told me that I needed to believe in myself and do the things I needed to do – not the things they wanted me to do, but the things I needed to do.
And this – this adventure – was something I needed to do. I realized that I needed to go on this adventure just to stretch my wings; I needed to get away from what I’d known and make my own decisions for once. I needed to be free. But most of all, I needed to go on this adventure for me, just to prove to myself what I was capable of. I needed to get away from my parents so I could discover who I was and define myself for myself, not define myself by who my parents thought I should be.
I had made something amazing happen, I had made my dream come true. I’d had the power within me to make this happen. Although my parents hadn’t supported it at first, I finally convinced them that I was right and they should let me do it.
Here I was, living my dream, and that was a good bit of proof to me that what Captain Holden said was true. I could make amazing things happen when I believed in myself.
The sky was now completely dark, and we sat there in silence looking at the stars for a while. The ocean waves lapped gently against the hull of the ship.
Little did we know that at this time, a tiny crack in the hull caused by floating debris was beginning to leak. There was, at this point, around an inch of water in the engine room.
Captain Holden stretched and stood up.
“Well, we should probably be going to bed now. We’ve got to get an early start tomorrow.”
At this point, Captain Holden and I said goodnight, and he went downstairs to go to his bed. As Captain Holden frequently took charter customers on overnight cruises, there were several other cabins below deck besides his, but I had elected to sleep out under the stars rather than in a cabin.
I stood up and went down into the spare cabin where Captain Holden had put my sleeping bag and pillow. While I was below deck, I also refilled my canteen.
I brought these items up onto the deck and undid the strap on my sleeping bag, unrolling it onto the deck. I put my pillow at the top of my sleeping bag and put my canteen in my duffel, which was to my left.
Still wearing the clothes I’d worn that day, I lied down on the cool nylon of the sleeping bag and got inside of it, leaving it unzipped, as it was still around seventy degrees out. The sky seemed to be a beautiful, endless abyss, just like the ocean was. The stars twinkled above me, reminding me of fish swimming in the sea, and it was the perfect vision of peace. I just felt so happy inside that I couldn’t describe it.
Exhausted from the excitement of the day, I closed my eyes and fell asleep almost immediately.
It seemed like only minutes later, but was really around an hour, when I heard a shout and bolted upright in bed.
Captain Holden burst from the cabin of the ship and onto the deck.
“Tami, the ship is sinking! The hull is filling with water, and we’re going down fast!”
Fear coursed through me, and immediately, I was fully awake.
I jumped up, grabbing the handle of my duffel bag and slinging it over my shoulder.
“Here, put this life jacket on. Quickly!” He shouted, panic filling his usually calm voice.
I put the life jacket on in a rush, my brain barely comprehending exactly what was happening. It was all so abrupt and shocking that it all seemed like a dream.
Suddenly, the force of his words truly hit me.
We were sinking. We were far from shore, and in a matter of minutes, this boat would be completely submerged.
A chill ran down my spine, and I began to panic. I tried to breathe deeply, tried to remember what a person is supposed to do when a boat is sinking, but my mind was a mess, and I couldn’t seem to think straight. Fear was engulfing me too deeply to do any rational thinking.
Captain Holden rushed towards the cockpit of the boat to radio for help, but he was too late.
The boat’s hull had filled with so much water that it simply couldn’t stay afloat any longer. I was near the edge of the boat and Captain Holden was in the cockpit when the boat lurched violently to the side. Even from where I stood, I could see the look of utter terror in his eyes.
“Jump! Jump down! Jump clear of it!” Captain Holden screamed. Then the boat lurched violently, and I saw Captain Holden stumble forwards.
Blindly following his instructions, I jumped over the side of the boat, still clutching my duffel bag.