Friday, January 7, 2011

Drowning Your Sorrows

Two Summers ago, the kids and I headed to the pool and found the place virtually deserted. Towels strewn about, chairs out of place, meals left half eaten, and pool toys everywhere. Someone must have gone to the bathroom in the pool, we concluded , but it looked like the "Adult" pool was open for business, so we parked and went in, planning on meeting David for a poolside dinner later. We signed in, I ordered a Pina Colada, and the kids jumped right in, thinking it was cool to be on the Big People side. Everything looked normal, but it felt very wrong. After some small talk and an hour or so of swimming, I finally found out why. A little girl had drowned in the family pool earlier that day. Why did it take so long for someone to tell me and why in the world was any part of the country club pool still open? As the story unfolded later that week, I learned that the pool had been very crowded, three life guards were on duty, parents were everywhere, yet no one noticed until it was too late. I just didn't understand how someone could drown with someone a few feet away. How could no one have noticed this little girl struggling?
It was a Summer later when I read an article about the silence of drowning. It's not the desperate thrashing, arms waiving, crying for help, we see in the movies. The act of drowning is very quiet. The body goes into survival mode and instincts kick in. The arms move close to the body, the feet tread water, and the air for yelling is conserved for breathing. People drown every day without anyone knowing something is wrong.
After that tragedy at the pool, we parents kept closer eyes on our children. I never read a book, talked on a phone, or had in depth conversations poolside. I did see a child in trouble again that summer, and just like I read, I saw only the panic in their eyes, no obvious signs of struggle. I held out my hand and pulled her to safety.
I wish I could have done the same for my sister-in law. She was drowning too, but no one could save her. I think often of what could have been different. Why couldn't she have just taken one of the many hands held out to her. We all wanted to stop her from sinking, but by the time we saw the panic in her eyes, it was too late. The weight of alcoholism and hopelessness was more than any of us could help her bear.
Rebecca Lynn Martin lost her struggle a few days after Christmas this year. In some ways, many of the people who loved her, lost their struggle as well. They never stopped trying to get her to swim to shore. Some of us threw out the life ring, knowing that the safest way to save someone in trouble is to stand on solid ground and hope they grab on. Others dove in selflessly, holding her up, until there own strength was exhausted.
In these first days of 2011, I've spent a lot of time thinking of Becci in her glory days. She was the girl many were jealous of. She was naturally thin with beautiful legs and striking green eyes. And she really loved her clothes, always dressed to the nines. She also had the deep voice that carried through a room like a microphone. We always tease Aidan that he got Aunt Becci's uncanny loudness. Becci also had beautiful hands. It was rare that she didn't have the perfect manicure on those long, graceful fingers. When Camryn was born, one of the first things I noticed were her elegant little fingers. She got Aunt Becci's hands. Everyday I'm reminded of her in my children.
Why Becci couldn't grab on to one of us, we'll never know. I know we never stopped trying to reach her, never stopped throwing out the life ring.
I know drowning is quiet. I have been a witness, a stunned onlooker that can't help.
I now realize that sometimes drowning can be completely silent, the sorrow of life pulling down, until there are only ripples on the surface to show you were ever there at all.
Becci lived with the weight of alcoholism threatening to drag her down everyday. That weight has been lifted. May her spirit soar to the heavens. May she take the hand of God and be lead safely to shore.

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