Our family takes a plane away from everyone we know to spend Thanksgiving in Cancun, Mexico. There is parasailing, relaxing hammocks, and a Kid's Club treasure hunt, which we always win. A giant box of chocolate is delivered to our room with a card that says felicitaciones. Our hotel TV gets Nickelodeon and I watch Rugrats for the first time ever. I don’t really like it but all the other kids in my second grade class do and I want to be in the loop.
The same string of photos is taken each year when we come to Cancun. Me in a swim costume next to a palm tree, me in a hammock, me building a sand castle and giving up halfway because it’s too hot.
Dad takes us off site to a watersports place where we rent a boat and go snorkeling. He asks the manager for the best boat. The boats are meant for two, but fits the three of us perfectly, as mom does not take part and I am a very small child that can wedge between my father and brother. I wear my favorite leopard bathing suit and Eric seems somewhat excited to look underwater at colorful fish and maybe see something cool.
The snorkel trip leaves the dock and all the little boats and little families follow the leader. Dad drives us out, into the ocean like a flock of birds, following and flying in one direction. The water is so blue and so green. I am nervous to snorkel, since the only time I’d ever done it before was unsuccessfully in the hotel’s lake. Dad made me go in and I knew I wasn’t supposed to. I knew that this water was for looking at and admiring and not for swimming in. But I went in and he taught me to spit in my mask to make it clear. He told me to rub the saliva into the lens with my thumb and not to rinse it after. He wanted to make things as clear as possible. When I saw my first fish, a blue and black angelfish, I splashed in the shallow water and ran out, back to the beach, back to my mom who was waiting with a towel.
The boat sputters and gives out. It comes to a slow in what seems like the middle of the ocean. We are stranded. The other boats have zipped off to continue their adventure. Dad throws a fit with curses and exclamations. No one sees. No one comes. What happens if no one hears his aggravated screams? What happens if we never make it off the boat? Will we swim to safety? What will Mom think? I fear for my own life, the life of my dad, the life of my brother. I look out at the beautiful Mexican mountains and think of the bullfight Dad took us to the other day. Mom didn’t come to that either. The bull ran around the ring, around and around, chasing the toreros with the red blanket, I didn’t know why. Everyone was shouting and excited and I didn’t understand. I knew that I should be excited. Dad was enthralled. Eric was happy.
The matador stabbed the bull in the head with a sword. The crowd went wild. I began crying into my shirt and hid that I was sad because I didn’t want to ruin anything. Dad cheered and Eric did, too. They felt something that I did not. The bull was dead.
The boat is stopped. After a while someone from the watersports shop comes and rescues us. He ties our broken boat to his and we ride back to land. I'm still wearing my life jacket when dad insists on a refund. Eric unclicks my jacket.
Back at the hotel, Mom is glad we are alive. I open up my Barbie luggage set to play while everyone else gets ready for the pool. I haven’t opened it up all trip and things have shifted inside. Barbie’s kitchen is in shambles. Her clothes have fallen off hangers in her closet. Shoes are missing and I am upset. Mom insists we go down to the pool and I pack the luggage back up the best I can and put it away in the mini closet.
This is the trip to Mexico when Dad busts his hand open on a glass display. He is rushed to the hospital and needs stitches. This is the trip where we can’t help ourselves from running around near the pool and Mom reminds us of when she broke her leg, which I don’t remember, but I know it to be true. This is the trip where Eric goes Scuba diving and I'm allowed to try it out in the pool. I remember going down each step, letting myself sink deeper, deeper into the depths of the blue pool. This is the trip where I get to take Koko, the class pet, with me, and the string of photos becomes Koko in a pair of sunglasses next to a palm tree, in the hammock, in the sand with a shovel in his little plush hand.
When I bring him back to school he smells like suntan lotion and there is sand embedded in the fibers of his body. Koko was supposed to go everywhere with me, but there were certain places I couldn’t take him. He couldn’t go swimming or get wet, he couldn’t come on the boat in case he fell out, he couldn’t come to the bullfight and watch his brother die. Most of the time, Koko stayed in the room sitting on top of my Barbie luggage, keeping it company, waiting for me to come back, to see what was next.
Brittany Ackerman is a third year MFA candidate in creative nonfiction at Florida Atlantic University. She graduates this spring and will be doing some traveling to Italy and Greece upon receiving her diploma. More of her work can be found on her personal blog, Daily Ackermations.