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DCF, the first time

Before our trip to Florida I did't know where babies came from and I had never swam, at least that I remember. Nor do I remember real sand or knowing people could be blind or deaf. That forest taught me a lot.

The first night was a blur, I remember hearing birds, I had never heard so many. The pine cones would graze my bare feet and hands. We searched for a place to camp but I never knew where we were going. I didn't even know what a forest was until the man dropped us off.

I met my first alligator only weeks later.

"Kick Natalie kick," my daddy said beginning to get annoyed. "It isn't very hard darling." My mommy said trying to get me to focus. But I didn't want to,"I done," I declared and got out of the water. My daddy rolled his eyes and looked over at Elias. "Want to try?"
"No, can I take Natalie to the other campers?..I wanna explore." I watched as my parents made eye contact and then both nodded.

Can they speak without words I wondered.

"Come Natalie," Elias said grabbing my hand, I nearly fell. The hill of sand was long and steep, at least for my little legs. When we reached the top I ran over and sat in a mans lap. (His name has been forgotten to me but he was kind to me and my family, I knew him well) "Hello Natalie how was your swimming?" I smiled and shook my head,"not fun."

His half smile told me he understood,"Elias come here, I have a proposition for you and Natalie," he said picking me up and placing me on my feet. "Yes?" Elias said coming to stand beside me.

He smelled funny, I wondered what he had been doing. I will ask him later I decided and focused my attention on the man.

"Have you two young lads ever been on a boat."

"No," we both said beginning to get excited. "Well if you two head back to the water and try swimming for a little longer and your folks say yes I'll take you in my boat." We both started jumping around excitedly and started running to ask with the man right behind us.

I raced into the water and Elias asked if we could, my dad agreed, on one condition, we try for 30 more minutes. I floated on my back for the first time alone so daddy let me finish early. I rushed out the water and went to wait by the man for Elias.

He pulled out 2 life jackets, I wondered what they were for but Elias asked before I could. "What do we need those for?" He said. "In case you fall out," we both backed away slightly. "Julian tell your youngins they won't fall out, I'm just being careful."

"He's right, you will be okay and your mom and I will be right here." I gained my confidence back once more and stepped up to put the life jacket on. Elias followed my lead and we climbed on the boat.

I felt the boat rock slightly and clutched the side, as did Elias. When the man climbed in he said,"sit in the middle and only move when I say," we both nodded. My dad handed him the paddles and we were off. I watched the ground disappear as we went into deeper water.

I could feel the fear creeping in, no I said to myself you are okay. The man pointed out birds and a few snakes. He was taking us all the way to the other side of the lake and then back.

He would tell us to move around and look at the different plants, I let my fingers glide through the cold water. It was truly beautiful, even with the slimy algae.

"Natalie!" He shouted, scaring me half to death. I whipped my head in his direction,"yes?" "Get you hands out of the water, you are about to see something dangerous." He said smiling, I couldn't tell if he was lying but I pulled my hands in close anyways.

"Look!" Elias screamed half scared and half excited. "Is that an alligator? My dad told me about those, can they really kill you?" He asked in amazement, I on the other hand didn't want to see what he was talking about. When it came into view I almost cried. It reminded me of a dragon.

I cried when we reached the shore, soon after we packed up and moved to another lake. It was called Dog lake.

Have you ever been so young that you didn't realize that being pregnant was a thing? You simply thought someone was getting fatter. That was me when I was 3, shortly after arriving at Dog lake my mother gave birth to my brother Damon. She gave birth in the water about 20 feet from us. She wore a white dress, only a short distance from an alligator infested lake.

"Mommy where do babies come from I asked after he was born," she kissed me and smiled lovingly, but never answered. It became normal to have Damon in our lives, he's so tiny I thought to myself daily.

There was a child that lived about 2 minutes from us in another camp site, his name was Issac. I once caught him and Elias crossing their streams, or at least that's what they said. I didn't know what that meant so I told mommy, she said only gay boys do that, Elias said their privates only touched a few times. "What is gay?" I asked but was told to leave so I declared I hated them and ran to the water.

A bear and it's cubs had been spotted a few days earlier roaming around the camp sites so when a park ranger spotted me he took me back to camp. I wasn't allowed to hear the "grown ups" talk, it made me sad.

A few days later people came to talk to me and Elias, the ranger reported my parents for child endangerment and neglect. At the time I didn't know who they were, I would only learn years later when they started coming around much more often.

The real neglect and endangerment wouldn't come for many years, if only the ranger knew.

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