My old childhood neighbor Eva Morkoff (not her real name) woke one morning to find her identical twin, three year old son gone from her home. I’ll call him Christopher. The police were called, neighbors and others came out to help find him. The guy next door checked his pool and found Christopher in it, drowned hours prior. They couldn’t revive him. It was presumed he’d gotten out of bed in the middle of the night and got into the neighbor’s pool.
At eight years old, Christopher was the first person I knew that died. It was hard to understand that he couldn’t come back. I heard stories of Eva’s great sadness, and couldn’t fathom how she was coping. She would always know what Christopher would have looked like, growing up, because of his identical twin brother.
About fifteen years later, at a woman's house party, Linda explained her nephew was resting on a bed in the guestroom. “He’s nine,” she said.
“Oh, not feeling well?” I had asked.
“No,” she replied. “Years ago at a party, my brother and sister-in-law thought the other was watching him. He was three. When they found him, he was in the pool, lifeless. He was revived, but he never came out of the coma, so he’s a vegetable.”
“How devastating,” I responded.
She said, he was growing normally, only blinked, and had a feeding tube. They took him everywhere with them, and would rest him on a bed or couch, depending where they were.
About five years later, driving through Shelton, Connecticut, listening to the radio, it was blue sky, brilliant sun, and almost 80 degrees. The radio DJ commented how it was that time of year, when you have to keep a good eye on children around water. He reported a small child drowned that morning. I didn’t hear the rest of his remarks. My mind had triggered back to Eva’s son and to my friend’s nephew. I wondered how old this child was and guessed three. A minute later, the DJ announced the little girl had been three years old, and one parent thought the other was watching her.
Leap ahead nine years, when I was going through a divorce, my soon to be ex-husband was invited by my relative to a summer party. I wasn’t happy about it, but was told that the “family” needed to stay together, not that they kept it that way.
I wanted my children to be able to play with their cousins, so I took them. It was my weekend with them. My almost ex sat at a table full of people his back to the hot tub a foot away. There they laughed and carried on. I was pre-occupied watching my children. I didn’t trust taking my eyes off of them near water. Drownings of three children that I didn’t know, (Eva’s twins I only saw once) would enter back into my mind whenever my children got near water.
My five year old son and seven year old daughter were swimming in the in-ground pool, squealing with delight. My three year old daughter, I’ll call her Emma, (not her real name) was playing next to her father, who was sitting literally twelve inches from the in-ground hot tub, with his back to her. I walked up where Emma was to keep an eye on her. My ex yelled at me. “I’m watching her!” and went back to paying attention to the conversation at the table. I didn’t want to be near him, so I went and took up a seat about 18 feet away on a single chaise lounge.
A few people who’d walked by at different times, asked me why I was sitting alone. “I’m watching the kids,” I would repeat, and they’d walk away to swim or join in on a conversation. I sat for a long time, and kept rotating my sight to each of my children. I especially keep a longer gaze on my youngest. Emma trotted back and forth, excited to watch the bigger kids jump in and out of the four foot deep hot tub. She probably was not three feet tall and didn’t know how to swim. unlike my two oldest I'd taught when they were about five years of age. Emma ran back and forth near the pool in her bathing suit, laughing. It was surprising that she was so coordinated on her feet. She played, stuck her hands in the water, and got back up, running intermittently. I glanced at the other two for a second and put my eyes back on my youngest. She ran near the hot tub with her head turned towards the crowded table, and fell into the hot tub, down under the water that was deeper than she was tall. I dashed across the pool area, fully dressed, shoes and jewelry. I got up to her, her hands clawed under the water, her popped eyes upward, her open mouth taking in water, and sheer terror on her small face. I jumped right in and pulled her out. She was choking on water, gasping for air. I faced her downward across my lap, her head tilted closer to the ground, some water she took in, came out. I wrapped her in a towel and she clung to me for about an hour.
A couple people asked why I jumped in the hot tub? Not one person had noticed Emma drowning. A person, to my shock, remarked, “You should have taken your shoes and jewelry off before you jumped in. (Insert whatever derogatories that come to mind, here). This is someone that I spoke very little to afterward. Let me (bleep, bleep, bleep, myself out from what my thoughts were). I sat in my soaked clothing. A while later, I took my newly ruined shoes off, and didn’t notice that I was chilled until Emma left my lap and got busy with the kids again. My emergency flight response was dissipating.
When it was time to eat, I watched the pool gate get locked. I didn’t have any dry towels left from what I'd brought with me. No one had brought me one or had come over, other than to question me, as to why I jumped into the pool. About two hours later, when I went in the house to use the bathroom, I was immediately followed inside and told that I shouldn’t sit down, and that I should change my clothes because they were wet, and I was going to ruin the hardwood floors and furniture. I didn’t say, ‘You should have been so attentive when Emma was drowning or when I was dripping wet and cold (which I was still cold and pretty wet), but instead said I didn’t have any other clothing. Then I was told to put someone else’s clothes on. I said “No,” at that point. Comments were made about how I wrecked my watch. ‘Such a nice watch and, you ruined it. Should have taken it off.'
(Insert your bleeps here.)
Once back home and the kids in bed, I looked at my diamond watch. I had swooned over it when I got it a couple years earlier. I had felt fabulous wearing it. (It wasn’t worth that much.) But now, it marked the time of when I raced to pull my Emma out of the water that was drowning her, the time that our lives could have changed drastically. It had lost its luster with those chilling words of “You should have taken your jewelry off before you jumped in.” They made me realize just how worthless my watch was. I’d hope no one would be so dumb, to wait to rescue someone while they’re drowning. Seconds matter, like my friend's nephew.
What the watch had meant to me was now a faded symbol of its past. I hung it up to dry, but its gears would never work again. The couple of times I tried it on afterwards, there was no longer an adrenaline rush. but a reminder of how lucky I was, to know when Emma was drowning and that I was able to save her. Because Christopher drowned, my Emma, now in college, was given time. Even though it’s been forty something years since, Christopher’s priceless short life will always be timeless. He's Emma's hero.
R.J. Grand is revising and writing FORTIER SERIES books - a Mystery Psychological Thriller Series, other thrillers and a couple of non-fiction books. She attended Sacred Heart University, has three grown children, and resides in Connecticut.