Paula and her son, Sam, sat in separate rowboats, 100 feet apart, in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. They were seated beside strangers, who had survived the cruise ship’s tragic fate the day before.

Twenty-four hours ago, Paula, her husband Dave, and her son, Sam, boarded a cruise ship that set sail from Ft. Lauderdale to Aruba. Paula had waited many years to take Sam on a family vacation. He had been diagnosed with mental illness as a child and was finally making progress in his seventeenth year of life. He was only hearing one voice instead of three, had stopped cutting, and wasn’t suicidal or a threat to others presently.

Sam was part of a research project for teens combating mental illness and was on trial medications. Paula wanted to take Sam on a cruise the year before, but it had to be cancelled. He had been hospitalized for the third time due to psychotic episodes that led to a suicide attempt. This year, Sam’s new doctor gave Paula hope that the trial medications could be the answer Sam so desperately needed.

The men in Paula’s rowboat continued rowing as she kept her eyes on Sam. They inched their way fifteen feet closer to Sam. Paula cried, “Please, hurry! I need to get to my son. He doesn’t have his medication or insulin.”

Not only was Sam on anti-psychotic drugs, but he was also a diabetic. He was seventeen, 6 feet tall, and weighed 350 pounds. Paula worried that Sam would have an episode without his meds. She prayed his mental state would not regress and cause him to become aggressive or violent, considering the present crisis. Paula was sure it was only a matter of time before Sam had another meltdown.

Scattered pieces of the vessel floated around and between the rowboats, reminding Paula of yesterday’s tragic explosion that turned her world upside down. It was a nightmare she would never forget.

In the middle of the Caribbean Sea, the ship’s siren sounded followed by an announcement. “This is an emergency! Evacuate the ship immediately. Bombs have been located throughout the ship. Take as much food and water as you can. Go to the nearest exit where rowboats are ready to board. Evacuate immediately.”

A frantic frenzy broke out as passengers tried to escape, including Paula and her son. There was no sign of Dave. He was probably trying to gulp down the last of his gin and tonic in the lounge.

Passengers scrambled, stepping on small, helpless children, knocking over the elderly and those restricted to wheelchairs. They furiously made their way to the rowboats attached to the side rails. Paula tried to hold on to Sam’s hand, but the passengers broke their connection during the mass hysteria and they separated. Someone grabbed Paula and pushed her into a crowded rowboat. With no sign of Sam aboard, Paula cried, “Sam, Sam, where are you Sam?”

There was no answer. Sam wasn’t on board. Paula sobbed. The passengers cried in desperation. The men in the boat quickly rowed away from the cruise ship fearful that it would soon explode.

There were at least a dozen rowboats on the water, each with the capacity to hold thirty passengers. All twelve were now rowing at full speed, away from the cruise ship. Paula was hopeful that Sam and Dave were on one of the twelve. She sat alone in silence as she prayed for Sam’s safety. She knew Dave could fend for himself. She wasn’t as worried about Dave as she was for Sam. After all, Dave grudgingly accepted to join them with the condition that he would be left alone to partake in the all-inclusive alcohol that had no limits or timeframe.

Paula’s first night in the rowboat was hard to endure. Not only was she consumed with worry for Sam, but also it was hard to fall asleep with a boatload full of passengers. They sat shoulder to shoulder with nowhere to rest their heads. They fought against the urge to doze off, while the lull of the ocean teased their sleepy state. Tired mothers tightly held their babies as they tried to console loud crying.

Somehow, the ocean convincingly rocked Paula to sleep for at least two hours. Seagulls roused her from her slumber. When she opened her eyes she noticed Sam’s rowboat had moved much closer to her, within fifty feet closer. Paula called to Sam, sitting with his head down, eyes closed. “Sam, Sam, wake up. Are you okay?”

Sam didn’t stir at all. Paula called to the passengers sitting beside Sam. “Will you please tug his shoulder gently?”

The passenger to Sam’s left touched his shoulder. “Sam, wake up. Your mama’s calling you.” Sam lifted his head and opened his eyes, but didn’t speak, didn’t move.

Paula stood and called again, “Sam, I’m here Sam. Can you hear me?”

Still, Sam remained silent, stone-faced.

Paula pleaded one last time, “Sam, please, answer me Sam.”

Sam stood up. He parted his legs and began to rock the boat, seesawing left, then right, faster and faster. He laughed hysterically, as those sitting close to the outer edge began to fall out of the boat and into the water. The passengers screamed in fear for their life. “Help, help!”

Paula cried out to Sam, “Sam, stop, no Sam, stop!”

It was no use. Aggressively rocking the boat, Sam yelled as he stared at the water, “Strawberry shake, I want strawberry shake, I’m jumping into the strawberry shake.”

“No, Sam, no. Don’t jump.” Paula tried, but it was too late. Sam sank into the thick, strawberry malt.

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