A Journey into Fear: A True Story
The morning arrived when my stepdad and I were traveling back to the city from our country home. My mom and siblings had gone before us and were waiting for our arrival. Back then, I remember being an inquisitive and adventurous nine-year old that often got into more trouble than I thought I deserved, after all it was not my fault that I had so much energy and curiosity. The times spent in the country were fun-filled days and gave me the opportunity to venture and explore but the times spent there were short and now it was time to head back to the city.
It was a chilly morning that spring day of 1967 and the trips between the two states were long and boring. However, on this day the journey we were going to take would be very different. Little did I know this journey would bring me closer to death than I had ever come.
The sun had not come up yet and the house was very quiet when suddenly a loud sound broke the morning silence. Startled and confused I bolted up in bed, my butt still stinging from the playful slap my stepdad gave me. “Get ready; we have a long drive ahead of us!” Not fully awake and annoyed at him for waking me up like that, I kicked away at the covers and walked to the closet to pull out a dress. “Are you going to wear that dress? If you’re going to wear that dress, you’d better keep it clean or your mother is going to have a fit.”
Smiling, I looked at the pink dress, laid it at the edge of the bed, and went back to the closet to pull out a pair of brand new shoes just waiting for the occasion. The pink dress was my favorite of all the dresses I had; it was hand-embroidered with beautiful little flowers around the sleeves and hem of the skirt. “I would not get a speck of dirt on it – not a wrinkle,” I thought, as we rushed around the house getting ready to leave.
It was close to noon when we
reached the state border and the sun was bright and warm. There was not a rain cloud in the sky, however, as we traveled the worn out road full of potholes, there was evidence that it had rained. Suddenly the car begins to speed up and I see my stepdad frantically pump the pedals in the car as he musters something under his breath. Nervously I ask what was wrong, “The car has no brakes!" he says. "Just don’t move from your seat!” I did not know what that meant but it sounded serious, so I obeyed and remained very still and very quiet.
We continued to travel on the desolate road until we spotted a place to stop. As we approached the entrance, I noticed a black sign that read in large white letters, “Laguna del Tesoro.” It was clear that the restaurant was not in business because the area seemed neglected and overtaken by shrubs and weeds. The overturned umbrellas and tables lined the front of the building and laid broken and soaking wet from the rain. To the left of the building, I saw a wooded area and a lake that surrounded the restaurant at that side. A high chain-link fence enclosed the area as if to keep people out.
Farther out to the left, out of the lake, a stretch of land protruded from the water. It was on this piece of grassy area that I saw, basking in the sunlight with mouths gaping wide open and laying stiff as logs, about five or six alligators. I thought “Wow! I’ve never seen alligators before!” Having heard many scary stories about them only made me more curious. Absorbed by what I was seeing, I did not notice my stepdad had managed to get the car to slow down enough until it finally stopped.
I opened the car door and dashed out ready to explore the area. Sensing my anticipation to run and explore, my stepdad gives me a stern warning to remain close by and to stay away from that area, pointing to the alligators. Sometimes I wondered how he knew what I was thinking.
The buzz of insects in my ears was annoying as I explored the area. The ground was wet and muddy and the air smelled of mold and of stagnant water. How it happened, I do not know but I soon found myself wandering near the fenced area. A big sign on the chain-link fence read “DANGER! DO NOT ENTER!” I looked around and I saw a part of the fence had collapsed leaving a small opening that led to an outside eating area. The alligators were farther to the left, so why would there be a sign saying “danger?”
Carefully I climbed over the collapsed fence through the opening. Once in the courtyard, I noticed the rain had flooded the lake. The water had reached the umbrellas and tables nearby submerging them halfway in the muddy water. Jumpy, but with overwhelming curiosity, I crept closer to the lake’s edge and saw a partially submerged umbrella that was still standing. I grabbed the pole and cautiously leaned forward hoping to get a glimpse of the alligators further down on the other side but I could not see them because of the shrubs and palm trees blocking my view.
Bored already, a thought entered my mind and I decided to play a game. I gripped the pole and daringly began to swing around it, over the grassy muddy edge of the lake, over the dirty water to the other side of the umbrella. Thrilled with my accomplishment and agility, I gathered momentum and swung harder, feet up in the air spinning across the water as I thought, “this is fun!”
Then it happened! I did not swing high enough to clear me from the edge of the lake and I slipped and fell hard on my stomach. The fall knocked the wind out me making me lose my grip on the pole and I began to slide down the muddy bank into the murky water. Swallowing dirty water and gasping for air, I thrashed and kicked, digging my hands into the mud trying to get out. I tried to stand repeatedly but each time I would lose my footing and sink back down deeper into the slimy muddy water.
I tried to dig my shoes into the muddy ground but the hole I created underneath the water became deeper as in quicksand. My heart pounded loudly in my chest; it was all I could hear. In my frantic attempt to get out, I managed to look back in the direction of the alligators and remember thinking, “They are going to eat me!”
Time seemed to stand still and I was exhausted with no strength left in me. Out of breath and unable to keep up the struggle, I began to give up and started to slip back down deeper into the waters when suddenly I felt myself being yanked by the arm and pulled out of the water. I felt a couple of hard smacks on my bottom and then a long hard hug from my stepdad. My heart was still pounding so loud in my ears that I did not hear the deserved scolding he was giving me for disobeying him. My eyes were on the alligators that by that time, to my horror, were finding their way to us!
Everything became a blur after that. We managed to find someone that helped repair the car and we were back on the road in no time. The horrible journey ended late that evening as we made it home in the city. Still in shock, I entered our home realizing that I was almost killed by alligators on that day. The smile on my mother’s face turned to one of concern at the sight of me. She took one look at my face and then at my stepdad and knew that something terrible had happened.
As I followed her gaze, I realized how pitiful I must have looked. I had forgotten all about my once beautiful pink dress. It was no longer pink but a stained muddy brown and green rag that smelled like swamp water... and my beautiful brand new shoes? Ruined! They were scuffed and covered with caked mud. However, this did not bother me too much. I was glad to be alive. On that eventful day, I learned to listen to my parents and not venture out so carelessly into the unknown, not for a little while that is.