The first time I drowned I was twelve. My parents were recently divorced, Ocean Beach the designated meeting spot to exchange me and Button, our family dog. Mom got Button this week. Dad got me. A joint custody swap on the seaweed-stricken beach. I knew they both wanted to keep Button full-time. My parents were better with dogs.
I bobbed in the water, watching them fight. Mom tugged on Button’s leash and the Lab stuck its snout in her crotch. Mom liked that. Her eyelashes fluttered. She’d been anticipating the soft touch of Button’s fur the entire drive down. Whenever she got Button back, her voice was high-pitched and happy; when she had to give him up, it dropped like a stone.
I swam deeper into the water, letting the argument over Button’s kibble get swallowed up by small waves. My parents didn’t seem to notice me. So, I exhaled a huge breath. Though I could swim, I let my chest lose its air, and I sank, allowing the water to pull me under. I was in control of my heartbeat now. I liked the way the sun flickered white-blue-yellow through the shimmer of the water.
I thought I could live forever down here. I’d drown, my body bloated, rotted, the sharks eating my face, excreting it back into the ocean, and bam, organic carbon. Purpose. I’d have a purpose.
Then things went blurry, and I felt kind of sleepy and warm, and my vision filled with many small black moons.
When I woke, my father was straddling me, hollering and shouting for help. His fingers mashing against the veins in my wrist. His pale, round belly protruded from his open shirt. People stood on both sides of us, their voices hushed, tearful. When I craned my neck, I saw my mother kneeling in the crowd, her arms looped around Button’s neck. Her face buried in soft yellow scruff. Above, the sun’s glare was harsh and I winced.
“What were you thinking?” my father bellowed. “What on earth were you thinking?”
I opened my mouth and let loose a spray of water straight into his red-rimmed, unblinking eyes.
Startled, my father reared back. Then he raised his hands and covered his face. I wondered if my father was crying or laughing, but it didn’t matter. He chose me. I’d go live with him now. I’d go be a newly-drowned version of myself in that bland bachelor pad of stale sweat and stinking god-awful beer.