I was nine years old and sitting cross-legged in a two-person vinyl boat, which was tied to a dock on the Chesapeake Bay. It was late August, when the clouds roll thick and the humidity smells like salt. I was with my friend, Meagan, who was (she said) on her way to becoming an Olympian through the auspices of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club. She practiced a lot these days, and it wasn’t often that we got to just chill in a boat anymore. Our friend vibe was off. Still, we were playing in the vinyl boat of her grandparents’ dock, and it wasn’t a bad gig for the last weekend of summer before we went back to different schools.
While we were in the boat, she suggested that we “ride the horse,” which sounded fun. But it wasn’t some pony she had holed up in the barn. It was a kinesthetic substitute, where basically she made the boat go up and down, up and down. “See-saw” might be more appropriate. Either way, it was fun. The water was warm and splashing everywhere and our skin was squeaking on synthetic yellow. Up-down, up-down, and sure we were laughing—we were kids, and in a matter of moments we’d gone from jaded to jacked. Of course, that’s when we realized the boat had come untied and we were twenty yards from the dock, on the Bay, with the wind, and then suddenly the rain. Panic set in.
I suggested, in so many words, that she just get in the water and swim us back to shore. Meagan didn’t move. I looked at the sky, and thought of starvation, and then probably kidnapping, dis-memberment, shark attacks, barracudas, cannibalism. There were real tears now—you know, fat ones, and the current was fast too. I realized Meagan was yelling something: “Teal!” she’d say, “Teal!” I felt dizzy until I saw the dog’s nose, which was pink and very cute. Literally a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Teal swam out to our boat, bit the rope, and tugged us back in. It was raining in sheets. I remember putting my head against his wet stomach, as I cried on the rocks. There were mats in his fur, and they shook with his breath.
—Kathryn Hast, Asheville, N.C.