We tried to run across the sand, but our heels kept sinking and slipping beneath us. It smelled like sunscreen and dead fish, and the sun was baking me like a cake: cooking the outside first and slowly, steadily warming the inside. I could feel the future sunburn tingling on my shoulders where the skin was hot and stiff. Later I would regret it. For now, I didn’t care.
Our calf muscles thanked us when we finally escaped the long stretch of dry sand that, despite our efforts, was impossible to run across. Next was only the thin band of wet sand separating us and the water. The moisture had packed this sand down, and running was finally possible. We shot off like the Bullet Bill power-up in Mario Kart. The water licked at our heels as we splashed into its shallows, toes disappearing into the sandy waves and arms flailing for balance. As we moved deeper into the water, the cool tingle spread up our legs. My fingertips skimmed the surface. The swirly feeling rushing beneath and between and all around them made me smile. I paused to feel the sand dancing around my toes. I wiggled them deeper into the choreography of swishing, swaying, and twirling that reached into infinity. Here in the shallows, I would be able to see if a horseshoe crab was nearby, but as my feet gradually sunk deeper, all I saw under the sparkling surface of the water was thousands of grains of sand leaping across the top of my feet, their dance uninterrupted.
I stood there watching the sand move with the rhythm of the water until I realized everyone else had kept moving. They were pushing onward as if they had an end goal, as if there was somewhere out there to go other than the vast abyss of water. Suddenly the water’s cool tingle felt more like goosebumps. I followed hesitantly. Never before had I ventured into the ocean deeper than my hips, but if I stopped there, they would call me a baby.
I pushed against the water and started moving once again. The waves tried to hold me back as they shoved past, but I pressed on, determined to catch up to my friends. I inched my feet across the sand—Mom said that would scare away horseshoe crabs. I did not want to step on one of those. Or on a stingray. Now I was on my tippy-toes, and the water lapped around my neck. Higher and higher the water rose until suddenly, a big wave lifted my toes off the sand. My heart lurched, and my throat seized up. I smiled as I spit out a glob of salty saliva.
By now, my friends were only a few yards away. I half bounced, half floated over to them. Every time my toes left the sand, I worried that when they landed, it would not be on the sand but on the back of a horseshoe crab or the spikes of a sea urchin. Sputtering, grinning, and panting, I caught up to the rest, who were treading water to stay afloat. My feet joined theirs, beating against the water that held us up above the crabs. We all smiled. Our bravery at venturing out this far was unacknowledged yet agreed upon. I splashed someone, and she splashed me. It was the start of a victory celebration that did not end until our hair was plastered flat to our heads and our stomachs hurt from laughing.
But accompanied by all of my smiles was the full awareness that I was subject to the water’s will and that thousands of crabs crawled in the dancing sand beneath me.