CNF: The Invasion

Amy Holwerda

When I was twelve, my family traveled to Florida for a vacation on the beach. We had been looking forward to a week of sunning ourselves on white sandy shores, and since we kids had never before seen the ocean, splashing in its waves. We had heard that salt water makes you buoyant, and I imagined myself bobbing sunny side up, like a poached egg. I would close my eyes, hold my breath, and let the waves carry me away.

When we arrived, however, the beaches were littered with bloated jellyfish. A passerby told us they had invaded the shores the night before, and when the tide pulled back, their soft bodies had stuck to the sand. They couldn’t wriggle away because they had no control over where they went. They floated helplessly, obliviously, to their deaths. My brothers passed the days stabbing the swollen orbs with sticks, squealing when they burst and oozed like grey yolks over the pristine sand. I sat at a picnic table playing cards with my father, while my mother walked silently up and down the beach trying to photograph seabirds with a flimsy disposable camera.

When we returned to Michigan, my fifth grade class was taking prayer requests. I asked that everyone keep my brother Benjamin in their prayers, claiming that he had stepped on a jellyfish in Florida and needed to be brought to the emergency room, which explained why I hadn’t dipped even a toe in the ocean during my vacation. It was a lie, but the whole class, most of whom had also never seen the ocean, gasped at the cinematic horror of the story.

Years later, I would learn that my parents were already planning their divorce when we traveled south. They had wanted to give us one last happy memory before breaking the news. Had I known then, I might have asked to pray for something different, something real. Instead, we clasped hands, bowed our heads, and fervently prayed for a lie.

Soon after, my fifth grade teacher ran into my mother at the grocery store. She asked how Benjamin was doing, if the prayers were working. My mother came home incensed. “Weren’t your real memories enough?” she snapped. “The vacation wasn’t exciting enough so you had to lie about it?” I remember that she was sweating even though it was January. She was shaking and her eyes were wet. “Stop lying,” she screamed, slamming her hand to the counter. “Stop lying!”

Had she gone to meet her lover that night? In the secret, in the shadows, had she told him of my lie? Maybe she cried when she told him the story, or maybe she laughed. Or maybe she didn’t speak of me at all when he wrapped her in his arms and rocked her like the waves. Maybe she couldn’t think of us on those nights, so she closed her eyes and held her breath, knowing the tide was about to turn.

Amy Holwerda is a freelance writer living the dream of traveling the world with a pencil behind her ear. Her work has been noted in The Best American Essays (2013) and has been published in Hobart, The Collagist, Quick Fiction, Flash International, and The Sycamore Review, among others. She currently lives in Berlin, Germany and blogs about her travels at www.amyholwerda.com.

What exciting, fascinating “secret” stuff can you tell us about “The Invasion”?

Perspective is a funny thing, especially for a writer. Despite the tone of this piece, I’ve always had, and will always have, wonderful memories of the Florida trip. The realization that there was something lurking under the surface of these memories didn’t hit me until I was living on the ocean with my new husband. We were watching the water one morning when a school of flying fish suddenly appeared, hurling their gleaming, silver bodies from the black water, reminding me just how much the water hides.


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