I can’t believe I survived.
I was on my own for two months. It doesn’t seem that long on paper I guess. Others are not so lucky. One day, just any old day, no rhyme or reason to it, my life transformed from living to surviving. The simple luxuries and pleasures we take for granted–food, water, baths, human beings that love you–that is what makes life more than survival.
What I know now is that it could have gone much, much worse. I guess that should reassure me, but it didn't matter at the time, so it doesn't matter now. Aruba is still a beautiful island, and its palm trees still hold more dread than delight for me.
* * *
I awoke in the middle of the night to a cold breeze—a foreign feeling to my slumber. You never know the persistence of a night chill until you try to sleep with it at your side. Even when the days are 95 degrees, the night will bring its seeping chill. It is the nature of the evening to steal the warmth of day, the comfort of light. I hate the night.
The darkness was suffocating. I never remembered it being this dark on my bed. I never remembered my bed feeling as hard as the floor it sat on.
I’ll have to remember to ask for more padding. Or maybe just a bed that isn’t on the floor. That would be nice.
I remember thinking that. How obtuse. That was the last moment I would ever be myself–my former self–and I spent it thinking about fluffy beds. You probably think I’m crazy. How could I not immediately realize that I was no longer in my bed at home? How could I not notice that I was sleeping on the exposed coral bedrock of Arikok National Park? That the ceiling was peppered with stars. That I was out, in the open, alone. It’s still surprising to me now. But in those first few moments I was weak from the sedative and still yearning for sleep. Or maybe deep down, I knew and wasn’t ready to face it, as if I ever would be.
I drifted in and out of subconsciousness that night. Eventually, the sun began to edge around our part of the world and my darkness become more than a moonless night. I definitely was not home.
Where the fuck am I.
* * *
I heard you could drink your own pee to stay hydrated. It was rancid. It was wrong. But I needed it, and I’m pretty sure it kept me alive. Aruba is not a tropical island. The palms hug the coastline, and I think the hotel humans water them to be safe. My dumping grounds were arid and rocky—the truest desolation I’ve seen. It never rained. Not once in two months. My thirst was the only thing in my mind. Thirst will drive you mad, or at least, will drive you to lap up your urine. I wondered if it worked for feces, too.
I stared at my shit. For miles, all I had found were lizards. No more goddamn rubber on webbed feet. I had caught a couple but those bastards were quick–faster than any fly that I’ve seen; faster than the return of my hunger after I devoured one. I’d never known how pointed ribs could be. I couldn’t do it; I needed more in my empty body. I stared at my shit.
* * *
Many days were spent watching the fifteen-foot swells crashing on the cliffs. The spray off the crests landed lightly on my face, carried by the breeze that turns angry after sunset. I could always count on the spray of the sea to remind me of relief. The sun of the morning illuminated beautiful teal and cerulean water—the truest Caribbean color. I’d thought about jumping. The ocean was surely a better place for me than this Martian abyss. But I couldn’t get over the unknowns. Would I hit a rock first and bleed until the sharks found me? Would the waves pound me into the dead reef? How long would it take to drown? What if I decided I wasn’t ready while I waited for the water to fill my lungs? Here, I knew exactly what would happen: starvation, dehydration, madness. It didn’t sound pretty but I knew what it would be. I had mentally prepared on some level for that.
* * *
It was nearing my two-month anniversary in the wild. It sounds so explorative and curious that way. I found myself wondering about how strange the unexpected is. How strange because it is so easy, everything changes so easily. I never spent much time expecting things from my life, but I still expected my future, and it looked nothing like this. Yet, here I was, living a life. It seemed to belong to something else. I was trapped in something else’s reality—a captive of a life I never wanted. But it was a life, and it was mine. How crippling to know the extent of my existence. My circumstances hadn’t changed in these two months, so why would they ever? This was it.
It sounds so dire as I think back; it was dire. The heat was incessant, the isolation merciless, the thirst and hunger relentless. But sometimes the breeze was cool, and the churning surf turned calm, and the cicadas sang, and the sun set far off, and I felt free.
I would lie down on my bedrock at night and watch the starlight and feel a small hope that festered in my heart. A hope that the beauty in the world would find me in this life and lift me into another existence. My ceiling of stars was so far away, but it was my comfort. The stars didn’t dull in my hours of need. They didn’t dissipate in the wake of terror or tragedy. Maybe, neither would I.
* * *
I remember when I first saw them, the people. The sun was just rising over the horizon. Three girls stood in the middle of nowhere, just like me. They were beautiful. They were close, and then they were so far. I hadn’t eaten in days. The distance felt impossible, but this was my chance. I remember thinking it was my chance, my final day in hell.
My people left me. They didn’t want me. They were sick of me. All I was to them was a nuisance, a mistaken adoption. I was a problem to never waste their lives dealing with. Would these people be different? Would they keep me? Were they even real? It had been so long and so hot. But I could hear them. I could hear them laughing.
I remember laughing. Maybe one day, I’ll be somewhere safe laughing too. Maybe one day, I’ll laugh with these girls on a couch in Boston, dinner waiting for me in the kitchen.
I came out from behind the boulder that was hiding me. I ran.
* * *
“Shit. Kels, this is beautiful!”
“Haha, yea. Barely made it for this sunrise though. Fucking toy map is useless, Em.”
“Well, we’re here now.”
“Whoa! These waves are crazy!”
“Oh, hey Alex haha. Glad you woke up on your own. I was getting ready to use the car alarm.”
“Sorry but 5:45 is too early...Looks like we made it ok though! I thought for sure we’d get lost.”
“We did. You were asleep for that too.”
“What is that over there?"
"That white thing that's running...is it a goat?!"
"OOO I wanted to see one of those!"
"I don't think that's a goat."
"Guys, it's a dog!"
“Oh, cute! Come 'ere puppy!”
“Just uh, be careful, Al. I read that all the wild dogs here can be pretty aggressive.”
“All the wild dogs? What, are there a lot of them here?”
“I guess so.”
“Kels, its fine! Look at her. She loves us!”
“She doesn’t look aggressive. Doesn’t really seem to be afraid at all.”
“Yea...that’s weird if she’s wild.”
“Alex, haha, watch your face. You don’t know what she’s been eating.”
"Do you think she belongs to anyone?”
“I don’t know. Maybe? She seems pretty damn good with people.”
“Let’s keep her. At least for the day.”
“Maybe we should call someone? Ya know that 'responsible' thing?"
"I wonder how long she's been out here."
"Guys, we can't just leave her. I mean what if she dies?"
"Yea, I can't live with that."
"Well what do we do?"
"I don't know. Put her in the car?"
"What if she pees."
"My dad is gonna kill me."
"Whatever. We're taking her. We'll find a vet, we'll get her somewhere safe, it'll be fine."
"Come here, girl. Do you like cars? We gotchu. It's alright. It's all alright."