A Close Encounter With Death


My family and I would take a yearly trip to Praia Grande, Brazil, a break from the chaos and hours stuck in traffic in Sao Paulo. I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but the details of the day are so vivid I see them in my dreams. 

When we first arrived, the air was crisp, and the sun was hitting our skin just at the right temperature. The heat turned my light brown freckles to a darker tone, and left my cheeks a rosy color.

We would stay at the beach until dawn. Life. Fun. Innocence.  I remember going back to the beach house and taking the best nap ever, like kids usually do after a long day playing with sand and burning their eyes with the sea saltwater.

My mother had promised to take us to the local artisanal fair after we had dinner, and we made sure our plates were wiped clean so we could excuse ourselves from the table.

After returning from the fair, we were supposed to get ready for bed. We were exhausted after a long day of exploring. Little did we know our nightmare was about to begin.

I remember my aunt hurried me to bed, and I found that extremely unusual of her, almost like I could sense something was wrong. I was the first one in the kids’ room, and everyone else was still downstairs.

My aunt stayed in the room with me and told me that I needed to be very quiet and that I could not leave. I thought they were going to pull a prank on me, but the look on her face was terrifying. Her skin turned a strange kind of pale – the yellowish kind.

She had turned the light off and kept her finger by her lips motioning for me to hush. The door was not fully closed, and we could see the light from the hallway creeping into the room.

At one point, we heard footsteps. And after that, my mind froze. Time froze. Everyone was moving slowly. I could hear my heart. 

The memories that follow are of me looking at my entire family on the floor with their hands behind their back. My feet were cold standing on the porcelain floors of the living room. My family tried to look at me but they were told to keep their heads down.

I still remember the cold metal from the gun circling around my lips and my mother begging the gunman for my life.

I still remember the cold metal from the gun circling around my lips and my mother begging the gunman for my life.

They all tried to cover their faces with a scarf. A job done terribly. Rookies.

We could all tell they were just desperate young teenagers. Hungry for money? Hungry for money to buy drugs? We will never know. All we know is that it was all too common for a place like Praia Grande.

Some details have been wiped out from my brain, not sure if this was a mechanism my body learned to fight off the trauma.

They took credit cards, jewelry, and all the money they could get. They would ask my family for everything they had and told them not to lie about any possible belongings.

“We will find out if you are lying,” the gunman said. “And if you are lying, that it would not end well for her.”

Her was me.

After that, the only memory I have is the fact that we had to escape. The robbers had left, and turned all of the knobs of the gas stove to the highest power. They had blocked the front door, and our only way of escaping was by jumping over a 15-foot wall in the back of the house.

I was tossed to the other side and falling in my uncle’s arms.

Luckily there was grass on the other side to break the fall.

My siblings all have their own version and details of that night, a night that damaged us all in different ways. There are still a lot of memories I do not remember, like getting home the next day.

And maybe one day I will remember everything.  Not quite sure I want to.  But I’m thankful to be alive. Thankful for my family. Thankful for memories, of a young girl dancing on a beach with her innocence.