Years ago, my military friends and I met up in Maryland at my friend Georgie’s. We all camped out in tents in his backyard. It was peaceful. One morning before anyone else was awake, my friend Becky and I decided we would take the “boat” down to the beach and go for a float. It had no sails, so we would basically be floating. Normally, this kind of thing is not me, but Becky’s sense of adventure is measles-level contagious. I remember watching her as she carried the inflatable raft with one hand and smoked her Newport with the other. The sun was just rising, and we were the first ones to wake up from our backyard campground. We joked about Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer as if we had anything in common with them. She laughed so loudly it seemed to flood the entire space around us; the orange sky growing lighter and lighter with each cackle. We walked quickly towards the beach, each of us carrying a paddle. The life vest felt tight around my rib cage. I wondered if I had pulled the straps too tight or if it was my anxiety filling up the vest. I looked at her with envy. She was calm and jovial. She was enjoying the moment.
I, however, was in a full-out internal panic that only seemed to increase with every step towards the water. I was about to board a raft. You could try to call it a boat, but the truth is it was one step away from a child’s pool toy. This is what they gave you when the ship went down and all the reliable, more sturdy life-saving devices were already being occupied by wealthy, more-deserving people. I saw Titanic. This air-filled floaty was the basement-level floating device that Leonardo DiCaprio would have been offered had he not been running around the boat looking for a chick. I mean, the door he floated on seemed more reliable than this thing. I was certain a mere blade of grass would have deflated it. Also, no one had known we left. Not a single person saw us. They would only realize we were gone when our bodies washed up on shore. I wasn’t even sure what body of water we were floating on. It could have been a pond for all I knew. I was only aware of the threat level. Given sharks, jellyfish, mermaids, sand crabs, and Loch Ness creatures, our threat level was a definite red. Becky never flinched. She didn’t hesitate. She stood out there on that shore with her arms wide open, welcoming the dangerous adventure like a warm hug.
I told myself that Becky must not have seen that episode of I Shouldn’t Be Alive. The one where they are on a very similar raft, floating in the middle of the ocean. Everyone is dehydrated and sporting sores on their faces from the sun. They pee off the side of the raft while sharks circle below them. I was certain that was our fate, but not Becky. Becky was a badass. But Becky wasn’t born that way; life made her that way. From the time she was born until five years of age, Becky lived amongst domestic violence. Between the ages of five and nine, she was molested, almost daily, by a family member. Shortly after, she was taken into foster care. She went through 12 different foster families and watched her brother and sister be taken in and adopted. She was pushed out of the foster care system at 17 years old. She was alone and had nothing. Becky is a survivor.
Once we spent the evening watching a horribly terrifying French film where two girls were attacked by a masked man wielding a chainsaw. Chainsaw dude caught one girl and chained her down. Her friend ran to a tool shed to gather weapons to fight back. Standard horror stuff, except with subtitles. After the movie, I asked Becky what she would do if a man came out of the closet with a chainsaw and I was chained and helpless. Becky didn’t even hesitate. I’m not sure she even paused long enough to blink. Instead she said, “I love you, Stef, but if a dude came out with a saw, I’m out. Sorry, but I’m NOT chained down. I can run and I would.” Her face was so serious. I wanted her to be kidding. I remember waiting for her to laugh. She never did. Becky survives and Becky is honest. I would have no hope chained down in front of a man with a tree trimmer. What would I expect her to do? Distract him with a magic trick? I would be the dumb white girl trying to take down a serial killer with a spatula. It took Becky less than 10 seconds to weigh the odds of that encounter, because she is a survivor.
Becky has somehow managed to take that dark and hurtful past of hers and translate it into a beautiful outlook on the world. She sees things differently. Her joy seems to never end. She finds the good in everything. She paddles out on the ocean in a wobbly raft from Kmart and thanks God for the ability to do so. I’m clutching the sides of the same raft and praying my death will be swift and painless. She once pulled her car into a random parking lot and stripped down to her underwear because her newly spayed cat peed all over her. I would have puked on myself and continued on my journey to avoid embarrassment. She forced me to go to a haunted house one year. I basically wrapped my head in fabric from the back of her shirt. I wouldn’t look at anything. Becky greeted every zombie, demon, and half-eaten talking body that popped out at her with a big, grateful grin. She’d say, “What’s up, man?”, while I pushed her and screamed, “Hurry! If you stop, we will die in here!” She is definitely a top pick for my Apocalypse survival team. Unless it involves that raft again. If so, Becky has permission to leave me behind.
Becky is currently attending University of Texas-Arlington and getting her Masters in Social Work. She is also working to help foster teens transition into adulthood and encouraging them to go to college. Currently only 1-2% of teens in the foster system go on to college. She desperately wants to change that.
See how awesome she is? This is why I floated out into the ocean without verbalizing my fear. Her bravery rubs off on ya.