About a week before school started, on August 7, 2015, my family and my best friend Grace's family decided to go out on the river. Grace's family owned a boat, and sometimes we were invited to go out with them on it. It was me, my parents, my brothers David and Junior, Grace and her sister Faith, their parents, and their dog Murphy. At the time we went out, I was sixteen, David was fifteen, Junior and Grace were thirteen, and Faith was ten. Grace and I had always been close—we'd been friends since she was two and I was five—though we seldom got to see one another, and when we did my younger brother always seemed to want to talk to her. I could see why, because Grace and Junior were in the same grade, but I still didn't like the fact that he would get to spend time with her instead of me.
When we were out on the boat, all the kids crowded together to sit in the front. The boat slowly passed through the docks, and we talked about the different kinds of flags we could see flapping from some of the ports. The water was brown and murky, and there were only a few places where you could see under the water clearly. My mother had tied back my hair, though I had stubbornly pulled out the ponytails and rolled them over my wrist—I regretted it later when the boat picked up speed and whipped my hair in every which direction. On the way to the sand bar, Grace and I had talked about my favorite TV shows, The 100 and Skins, which she had started watching per my recommendation. My brother kept butting into the conversation and getting Grace's attention, which annoyed me, but I tried to keep talking to my friend despite his interjections.
Eventually, we did arrive at a sandbar, and we each jumped off the back of the boat and into the river. Murphy, Grace's chocolate lab, jumped into the water and almost immediately pooped in the river. Once Grace and I noticed, we both went running out of the water and onto the sand. We decided that we didn't want to get back in the water for a while, and that we would make a sandcastle instead. Grace had one of the adults throw the buckets out of the boat for us, and we sat on the sandbar and started scooping sand into the buckets. My brothers were both in the water playing with a foam football, and the adults had set up an iPod speaker on the back of the boat. It constantly blared country music; my least-favorite genre.
As we were making the sandcastle, we started talking about things. Though I can't remember the exact words we said, I believe it revolved around the fact that I was wearing a pair of jean shorts, and us discussing whether or not we would ever drink alcohol or do drugs. Perhaps the topic came up because I was in high school, and she was going to the public school for the first time since elementary school. I didn't blame her for wondering; the rumors that went around about my high school had not been the best, and I dispelled most of them to the extent that I could.
Eventually, me, Grace, David, Junior, and Faith decided to walk to the other side of the sand bank, where no one had their boats docked. However, to get there, we had to walk across the scalding hot dirt that took up about twenty to fifty feet of the space on the sand bar. To get around this, we each filled up one of the sand buckets with water and would gradually dump it out as we hurried across the dirt to keep our feet from burning too badly. While everyone else hurried, Grace took her time as she was walking across, picking up shells and other things along the way to put in her bucket. I remember thinking that she must have a really high pain tolerance, because my feet were burning even with the water.
"Look, you can see the heat rising off the dirt," I pointed out when we were on the other side. If you looked closely, you could see how the image was distorted by the waves of heat.
"Oh my God, you can," Junior said.
"We just walked across that," David said.
Once we were all on the other side, we were looking in the murks of the river for some good shells. There weren't any on the other side because so many people were on that side. However, we were the only ones on our side. There were shards of broken bottles littering the shore, which Grace picked up, muttering about people littering.
We each walked along the edge of the water, and once you reached a certain point, your foot sunk down into the river muck. It was so slippery that I could barely keep my balance after my foot went out from underneath me. Junior had slipped in it before I had, and had river muck up to his shins. As it turned out, that part of the shoreline was covered in muck, which we all began to sink in. I scooped up a handful, running my thumb over it before disgustedly washing my hand off in the river. We quickly became bored with it and moved along.
Shortly after walking through the murk, I picked up a stick and started doodling in the sand. An ornery grin spread across my face as I got an idea. I took the stick and started spelling out in the sand. "I've got an idea," I said aloud to whoever was listening. "Judge me, judge me all you want." I stepped away to reveal the word 'BELLARKE' spelled out in all capital letters; an homage to my favorite characters. "Oh wait, hold on, I forgot something." I stuck the stick in the ground and roughly outlined a heart around the word.
"Oh my God," David said, rolling his eyes.
"Judge me all you want, David, I don't care."
After I had wrote in the sand, I was crouched over the edge of the river, the sun beating down on my already burnt back, looking for souvenirs I could take home with me. There was some yelling over by my brothers and suddenly a loud ker-plunk!
"Grace!" Faith yelled.
"What? What happened?" I left my place to come back over to them.
"She threw the bucket in the river," David said, laughing.
The bucket had been full of sand and immediately sunk to the bottom.
"We have to get that back!" Faith said.
"Oh man it's gone," I said, laughing. "Nobody's gonna see that bucket again for another fifty years."
At another point, after Grace had already thrown the bucket into the river, both she and Junior went off on their own to find seashells, and I didn't like it. I wanted to spend time with my friend without my brother jumping in and interfering. I'm pretty sure I said something stupid, but I don't feel like writing it down.
"Micah, am I your best friend?" Faith had asked.
"No," I answered, deciding to be honest. Faith would know I was lying if I said she was. "Grace and Chazzy are my best friends."
Faith was already mad about the bucket being thrown into the river, but me saying I was not her best friend pushed her over the edge. She picked up her life jacket and trekked back across the hot dirt to the other side where our parents were. She would no doubt tell them, and maybe I'd get in trouble, but knowing how our parents usually handled it when Faith complained about us, I doubted anything would happen.
"Does she honestly think she's my best friend?" I asked David after she'd left. "What, with the way I treat her?"
Junior and Grace came back, and David told Junior the stupid thing I said, and then both of them went back across the dirt to where our parents were. That left me and Grace on the empty side of the sand bar. We decided to both go look for more shells and other things, walking along the shore and examining objects in the sand, placing them in our buckets. I think Grace had had enough of looking for shells and wanted to go back, but I still wanted to look so she stayed with me.
"What's that?" I asked.
"That," I said, pointing to a brown, glassy thing in the water. I waded in the shallow water and reached down to grab it. When I lifted it from the water, I unearthed the other half to find a full, unbroken beer bottle. I sighed, deciding to take it with me. "Why do people just throw things in the river?"
We stayed on the empty side for a little longer, writing things in the sand before deciding to sprint back across the hot dirt.
"Should I fill the bucket with water?" I asked.
"No, let's just run," she said, and so we sprinted across, our feet burning on the sun-baked ground.
When we came out on the other side we kept on running until we were in the water, our feet red and raw. I stayed standing up but I think Grace had sat down on the shore, rubbing the bottoms of her feet.
"What'cha got there, kid?" My dad asked.
I realized he was referring to the beer bottle. "I found it in the river," I said, holding it up. "I'm not drinking, I swear."
"Here," he held out his hand, and I waded further in the river to hand it to him. He passed the bottle along until they'd passed it to Grace's mom, who was up in the boat and put the bottle in a trash bag we'd brought with us.
My brothers were up on the sand, burying themselves from the waist down, and Grace and I decided to join them. We both sat down in the sand, though she started rubbing the sand over her legs and arms instead of burying herself.
"Sand exfoliates your skin," she'd said.
I figured that my arms were pretty rough, so I grabbed a handful of sand and rubbed it against the back of my arms. I had covered my jean shorts with sand because I resented them; droopy, ugly things that made a cute bathing suit look odd. Admittedly, they had done me some good—had I not been wearing them the entirety of my thighs would've been redder than a lobster. However, they did nothing to protect my knees.
"Look at my knees," I said. "How are they the only thing that's burnt? How is that even possible?"
"You always get weird sunburns." I think it was one of my brothers who said this.
My mother was up on the boat, and unbeknownst to me at the time, had held up her phone and snapped a picture of the four of us, our legs half-buried in the sand. The sun shone brightly on my pale white skin—at least, the parts of it that weren't already red—contrasting the deep tans of Junior and Grace. Faith was bobbing in the water in her lifejacket, pouting over something that I didn't care enough about to remember.
When we grew tired of burying ourselves, we all had to step into the river to wash off the sand. The rest of them ended up playing catch in the water with a water toy, but I had sat next to my mother and Grace's mom on the shore because I was tired, sunburnt, and I wanted to go home.
"Why don't you get out there and play catch with them?" My mom suggested.
"Because my knees hurt," I'd said.
"You'll have them in the water."
So, I did go and play catch with them. My brothers stood on the back of the boat, and me and Grace would alternate throwing the ball and they would jump off the boat while holding a bucket and try to catch it. Murphy, the dog, had joined them and accidentally kicked our iPod speakers while jumping off the boat. Faith was complaining because nobody was letting her throw the ball, so we were told to let her throw the ball and we did a few times.
When the sun started to set, and all of the kids were hungry and thirsty and wanted to leave, we all gathered up in the front of the boat with our wet towels and our sand buckets and flip flops. My swimsuit had one big strap going across one shoulder, and that was the only place in that area that wasn't burnt. The backs of my arms and knees had fared the worst, and would still be sunburnt when school started up in a week. In the back of the boat, our parents were cleaning up the cooler and getting everything situated before we pulled away from the sand bar. As we headed home, all the kids spoke about what we were going to do when we got there.