The same forget-me-not blue sky frames the wide, seemingly endless ocean. Clouds drift by lazily, occasionally freckling the sight of such an unforgettable sky. The sun is up and it brightly lights my way, like a spotlight towards the place where my family is enjoying a picnic.
I see my mom first because of her radiant smile. The sincerity and fragility of it takes me by surprise, nearly stopping me in my tracks. When was the last time mom had smiled like that? Her eyes wander over the three of us as we giggle amongst ourselves, lost in one of our inside jokes that we'd deemed too funny for our parents.
Dad is eating a slice of ham as he watches mom. His blue eyes are almost searing into her as he affectionate takes in the sight of his happy wife. His hair is less greyed, with only a few flecks randomly tossed here and there and his face is safe of all the wrinkles that later invade his features.
Then I see us, the triplets, happier than we will ever be again. Leah has her braces on, their metal glinting in the sun. I have my hair up in a way-too-high ponytail and my then favourite purple bathing suit is free of any stains.
Then James turns around and the sight makes me catch my breath. The look in his eyes is of pure innocence as he laughs along with us. His chin is scar-free and there are a few freckles on his nose, like abandoned flakes of snow. His small chest heaves in and out as he laughs and dad bashfully rubs his blond hair until several cow-licks stay up.
The volume suddenly dims out on the scene and it fast-forwards. The eeriness of the fact that everyone is moving in fast motion is not lost on me as I step out of the way when the three of us run off towards the water.
Everything pauses and I see that we are all jumping into the water happily, James ahead of us. Slowly and careful not to disturb the scene, I walk into the water with the child versions of us. I turn softly around the frozen spray of water from our feet until I am facing us. I glimpse behind me at the ocean and bite my lip. This is one of the moments that I wish I could say something, maybe to change history. But I know that's impossible, no matter how badly it ruined us.
Suddenly, everything reawakens and I close my eyes as I feel the water ricocheting off of me. The kids' laughter starts to fade as they go further out into the unforgiving ocean. For a moment, the memory of the fear I felt that day engulfs me, but I quickly shun it out. Opening my eyes, I look across the beach at where my parents are. Mom is yelling something at us and I remember Leah saying that we won't go far.
As if the creator of this nightmare thinks of my life as a horrible joke, the volume bursts to full and the intensity of it nearly leaves me deaf. I hear the splashes now and I can see my mom waving her hands frantically.
Something brushes past me in the knee deep water and I flinch, remembering the cries and the fear and the blood. My fingers graze the water as I wait for the cry; for the outburst of pain. And, just as before, it comes.
"Ow," James shouts at us. I finally look back and see him looking down into the water as he slowly treads ahead of us. "I think I just cut myself on something."
"What are you talking about?" Leah asks. "We can't even reach the bottom here!"
"I know," he says and I can clearly see the fear in his eyes. "I don't feel so good, let's go back."
"But we just got out here," I can hear my high-pitched voice complain. "I'm sure it's nothing."
"Ow," he shouts again, only louder. "Please, let's go!"
The hesitation that my sister and I show at his outcries of pain can be seen by the way that we move away from James and towards the shore.
"Maybe he's right," Leah finally says, "let's go."
But just as the words leave her mouth, James's face goes pale white before disappearing altogether under the water. The whole thing happens in less than a second, but I will never forget the fear in his eyes.
"Mom!" Leah starts yelling, rushing to shore. I can see myself hesitating, wondering what is happening. "Dad!"
I ignore the splashes of Leah's feet as she leaves me by myself. "Just wait for it," I murmur to myself. "Just wait."
Then James pops back up, a bloody scratch on his chin so deep that I can see the bone underneath. He sees me and reaches for me frantically. I can see that he is trying to yell for help, but it is muted by the scarlet red water around him. My young self is frozen, nearly paralysed with fear as a large grey fin appears beside my brother.
I remember thinking that my brother was dying. I remember urging myself to help, but my body wouldn't listen. I remember thinking, wow, there is so much blood. I never thought that my geeky, skinny brother could have that much blood in him. But then I finally found my nerve, it clicked in me like turning on a light bulb.
My arms were swifter than ever as they fought against the ocean towards my brother. He wasn't thrashing as much any more and he was looking ghostly pale. His eyes looked like they were about to close and I knew I didn't have a lot of time.
The Discovery Channel would be vigorously thanked by me days later for what I did next.
I don't have to look under the water to see what I did, I knew it all by heart. I recall so strongly to the point that I can still feel the rough skin under my knuckles, my childlike punches to the large fish's gills. What feels like hours are actually minutes, but the shark finally lets my brother go.
James falls limply into my arms. The fact that I am terrified that it will come back especially with the trail of blood that is following us through the water, is etched into my face. I watch, semi-hypnotized by the moment, as my dad finally reaches us and takes James out of my arms.
Loud crying behind me snaps my attention away from the broken version of me that would last for so much longer than necessary. Leah is crying uncontrollably into my mother's arms. I frown and look back at myself, beaten and forgotten.
Is this why I have such a huge complex against my sister? Did this event make me see how unfair the world was and how easily it can be for sibling rivalry to grow?
Taking one final look at my bloodied arms, legs, and favourite purple bathing suit as the child version of me sits on the sand crying, I slowly walk towards my mom and my sister. My dad is long gone, having reached our car in record time. I glance down at the sniffling Leah and look up at my broken mom.
"You have another daughter and without her you wouldn't have a son," I remind her before the scene goes completely dark, leaving me in my all-too-familiar solidarity.