I know I didn't post my first draft, but I promise it existed!
Waiting to Exhale
The boat halted in the middle of the ocean. We had reached our destination. The captain excitedly came over the loudspeaker: we were surrounded.
The hundred or so people milling about the cabin for the last hour marched outside to the deck. My hands were wringing wet as I slowly hoisted myself out of my seat, and I put on a bleak smile as I followed my parents outside.
On deck, the crowd was forming toward the front of the boat. I tiptoed over them to get a closer look and as I felt my heart start to spring out of my chest, I saw my biggest fear come up to breathe and dip back down, its tail flapping as it went.
For years, I’ve had an absurd phobia of whales. Absurd mainly because I’m from a landlocked state, Tennessee, and have no access to the ocean. But then again, maybe it is because I wasn’t around them that my fear developed. Or maybe it was that story about the lying wooden puppet. Or maybe I’m just crazy.
Where the trip to Cape Cod was my parents’ idea, the trip to go whale watching was all mine. They weren’t sold on going; it was expensive and there was a good possibility we would see no whales. But it was important to them that I conquer my fear, so here I was, standing on the edge of a boat and facing out towards an expanse of ocean filled with the giant creatures and praying we didn’t capsize.
The whales, according to the naturalist, were showing off. Every time the crew came over the loudspeaker to announce a sighting on another side, the crowd would huddle together and travel in one big mass to catch a peak. A younger humpback was popping up every so often and playfully slapping the water as the mother and father were huddled around to protect him from the ship. But every time one came up for a breath, I stopped breathing.
At that moment, I wanted to be that baby humpback; I wanted my parents to protect me. My father, however, was now convinced this was the best thing he’d ever done and became obsessed with getting the perfect picture. This meant, according to him, splitting up and covering ground solo on different sides of the ship.
Although I was now comfortable with being on the edge of the deck, I still had anxiety every time a whale disappeared, because I knew it would have to come back up again, but I didn’t know where. Soon, however, the dread was replaced with the overwhelming desire to throw my father overboard for making me venture off by myself all over the boat and report back with proof that I didn’t just hide in the bathroom.
By the time the tour was over and we were headed back to shore, I was glad my father forced me to go around by myself. My fear was, dare I say, conquered and more importantly, my breathing had resumed.
And while it might be a few years before I work up the courage to see them again, the gigantic whale at the American Museum of Natural History in New York doesn’t petrify me anymore. That squid and whale exhibit, though, is a whole other story.