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I grew up in Gulfport, the second largest city in Mississippi. However, it was not so hard to find rural pockets in our day to day. Our neighborhood was surrounded by nature, woods in which we would built forts and hide from one another, ditches to discover pollywogs and crawfish, and a canal to master our swimming. These patches of trees and bramble were pockets of solace, tiny little havens where we could escape the monotony of our everyday. Here we could let our imaginations run rampant; we could hide from the world around us. My friends and I would play for hours in those woods, and then clean ourselves in the canal that ran alongside our neighborhood.
We were boys becoming young men, and it was not long before we felt the need to challenge ourselves. The canal was approximately one hundred yards in width, and we had never tried to swim across it. My parents had warned me of deadly undercurrents, and we had seen the alligators with our own eyes. However, there was some primal instinct that made us all believe that something would change if we could swim across that canal. There were five of us that decided to take the plunge that day.
I was the second of the group to stumble onto the sands of the opposite shore of the seaway. I was still on my hands and knees, trying to catch my breath, when I heard the cries for help. One of my friends was in the middle of the canal, and he was panicking. He was grabbing and pulling the two boys swimming next to him. I immediately dove back into the water. I got close enough to talk to him and calm him down. Together we bobbed back to our little haven. For nearly an hour, we were all too tired to even speak. The five of us sat on the sand in abject silence. Something had certainly changed for us that day; our pride had been eroded by the water of that canal, and we understood the fragility of our existence.