2018, Middle School, Prose
Content Warning: The content below contains graphic depictions or descriptions and may not be appropriate for some audiences.
It was a deliberate motion. His left foot reached out, the arch of his foot balancing halfway over the cliff’s edge. Eighty feet stood between him and the vengeful currents of the ocean, each tide roaring and spewing flecks of water. Waves climbed the uneven cliffs, struggling to throw their spouts of foam at the lone person like tomatoes at second-rate comedians. He was a comedian, after all, standing to make his last jest after the generations of ancestors before him mocked the wrath of the ocean and pillaged her. As he stood ready to thrust his body forward and pay the debt of his ancestors, the outrageous irony of the situation made him smile. Taking a last breath, he reached out his right foot and positioned it parallel to his left. It would only take a slight lean for him to offer his body as an oblation to the sea. But first, he drew back, gathered as much saliva as he could, then spit into the raging waters below. His spittle joined what was soon to become his grave as the man followed after his own sputum.
As his body hurtled toward the gaping maw of the ocean, he recounted his humble life before the embrace of the water could drag him into the depths. His thoughts were in no way organized, and he felt it was best to begin not with his childhood, but his time as a teenager. He closed his eyes and imagined his peaceful alma mater with well-polished hallways and shining classrooms. A particular memory stirred in his mind, a memory of the day when his Health class, much to his annoyance, was interrupted by educators from an organization that were to share about the water crisis in his community. He sat there and fell asleep during the conversation about the “20 Fun Facts of Water” as the speaker moved onto the next presentation, then the next… He finally awoke to his friend shaking him awake, handing him a crinkled sticker that explained five tips to save water. Getting up, he crumpled the sticker and tossed it into the garbage can near the exit; it hit the rim and fell to the side of the garbage can. As he went to pick it up, the speaker did not try to reproach him; she sat down on the chair with a tired face, and he had raced out the door to catch up with his friends.
His eyes opened. He was out of his memory and back in the seemingly unending freefall. Yes, that encounter had been one of the reasons he had decided to join ExxonMobil. Global warming, or any environmental disaster, was a joke to him back in his youth. Now his memories surged to when he was at the ripe young age of choosing a career. Eighteen or so, he was, and although reports of environmental changes were rising, the world seemed ripe for his taking. Through his acceptable grade average in his four years in college, he was accepted into ExxonMobil as an oil plant engineer. He was plunged into another memory; this one was about a leather chair. A vivid picture of him sitting in a conference room appeared. This memory was of his interview to enter ExxonMobil, and the leather chair he remembered was the chair he had been sweating on for two hours. Even though he felt incredibly doubtful that he had qualified, the interviewer still shook his hand, congratulating him on securing the job. While he was contemplating the Milo Baughman Model #3426 he was sitting on, the interviewer had leaned forward to say a final comment. “I do have one last question to ask of you before you go,” the interviewer said. “Are you prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure success?” A cheesy last comment, but he had leaned forward as well and said, “Yes.”
Once more he returned to his freefall and opened his eyes. A good hundred meters was between him and the roaring waters below, but the roaring of the ocean grew with every passing second. Why had he been so foolish? Shaking his head, he shouted a frustrating scream that was quickly shoved back into his throat by his own acceleration. His fall did not seem to accelerate him anymore; he began to wonder if he had reached terminal velocity, the fascinating law of nature his father had discussed with him so often. The mere thought of his father thrust him into another memory. He was sitting with his father in a King Air jet, his body heavily weighed down by the jumpsuit and the parachute bag he was carrying. He was at the young age of 16 when his father had taken him on a trip to Palm Jumeirah to skydive for the first time. His excited father was babbling on and on about the physics behind skydiving. Terminal velocity this and terminal velocity that… His father loved to use technical terms in every field he pursued, and at the age of 16, the term “terminal velocity” had begun to irk his exasperated soul. He decided to change the topic of the conversation and searched the plane for better topics. Finding none, he looked outside the window and discovered a dark pillar of smoke issuing from the twin engines. He innocently asked, “Dad, do you think all this smoke will kill our ozone layer? Because our AP Human Geography teacher was talking about how our ozone layer –” His father abruptly cut off his speech and sternly said, “There is no such thing as global warming. Now check your belt straps. We’re almost at the drop point.”
They had dropped over a beautiful, blue expanse of ocean that sparkled with vigor that reminded him of his youth. He had returned once to that spot while working for ExxonMobil and seen a very different Palm Jumeirah, speckled with mountains of overflowing trash and stained by the work of his company. The youthful body of water had aged, just like him, into a husk of its former self. He exited his memories to see a much closer surface that shone a reflection of his wrinkled self back at him. On both his cheeks were streams of water flowing into the air and joining his fall into the ocean. He wasn’t sure if they were his tears or the splatter of the ocean’s waves against his face. The water seemed so close now, he wasn’t sure if he would have time to remember another event. This uncertainty led him back from his skydive with his father, back from his first and only job interview, to his classroom in the very same discussion about how to protect the environment. Before his nap, the volunteer wanted suggestions from the students to tell her about methods to save water. Tired of the eagerly participating students beside him, he had raised his hand to save his classmates from boredom. He couldn’t remember the exact words, but he had suggested mass genocide of the human people, following it up with an explanation of why it was too late for humankind’s redemption. No one laughed except him, and now, outside his memory, he began unconsciously laughing, a giggle that turned into snorting, then howling in tears, and finally screaming. He was still screaming, still kicking, still thinking, when the waves mercifully embraced him. Not even a bubble of air escaped his mouth as he was dragged down into the gaping maw of the ocean.
I’ve always been fascinated by the saying, “My life flashed in front of my eyes" (in the moment of near death). I’ve never had this happen to me before, but I imagine every little bit of that moment to be a moment of pure truth and the repentance of the lies one has told himself his whole life; a private moment when it is his last chance to be true to himself. Every action one performs in his lifetime is impactful to something. So when people experience this moment of flashback, I believe it will not only be major parts of their life, but the smaller parts that are related to the bigger message. My story portrays a simple message: live by changing our ways, or die with regret.