Friday, July 26 began like a lot of Fridays. I had attended a meeting at work in which I developed some teaching material for the upcoming semester (it was one of those blessedly practical meetings). I came home and Liam, my three-year-old, and I walked over to the library to return some materials from the last week and pick up some new stuff for the weekend. We got him a movie about an impatient mouse and a picture book about the human body because lately he’s been really interested in how bones work.
When we got back from the Library, we all changed into our swimsuits and went to the pool at our apartment to meet up with one of our neighbors who is also in the same playgroup as Danielle. I brought a book to read and planned on sitting by the pool and having a nice, relaxing afternoon while Liam swam with his friends and Danielle and Amelia floated and splashed around the pool (Amelia absolutely loves splashing around in her little shaded float). It was shaping up to be a really nice day.
After we had been there about thirty minutes, things had settled into place. I was on the edge, reading in one of the reclining chairs, Danielle and Amelia were socializing, Liam was swimming around like he does with his inflatable blue ring.
Danielle called me with a note of concern in her voice and I looked up from my book. I could read the look on her face, “where’s Liam?”. One beat later she looked at the corner of the pool closest to me and said “Oh, buddy, Get Him!”. And there was a note of panic in her voice that I find impossible to describe. I’d never heard Danielle really panic.
I was already moving and I could see Liam’s blue ring lying on the concrete by the silver ladder in the corner, and as I ran over I looked under the ladder because a memory went through my head of my brother being trapped, very briefly, under a ladder in an above ground pool once. But Liam wasn’t under the ladder, he was a foot and a half away, floating on the bottom of the pool. I know I’ll never get that picture out of my head. I won’t describe him because I know my family reads this and I don’t want them to know.
I don’t remember going under to get him, but I must have. I don’t remember how I got out of the pool either. The next thing I remember is standing out of the pool and holding him in my arms and looking at his lips. They were blue, but I was happy because he was making a gurgling sound. I said “He’s breathing, he’s going to be ok” I think I was talking mostly to myself, but I said it loudly and I knew Danielle was coming out of the pool worried to death somewhere behind me.
I put him on his side on the concrete and started patting his back. Someone was asking around for a cell phone to call 911, and I remember calling “There’s a phone by the door” over my shoulder and also hoping that I didn’t sound too mean as I said it. By then, Danielle was on the ground across from Liam, laying her head on his. She ran around me to him saying “oh God, oh God” and that scared me. For about fifteen or twenty seconds, I patted his back and she talked to him and rubbed his head. I was struggling for the words to pray. Then Danielle looked up and there were white flakes on her cheek. I didn’t realize then that it was vomit. Liam started crying: a cry he had never made before. It was a wail, it was steady, it sounded like shock and despair, but oh my God it was the best sound I’ve ever heard, and I leaned back and let his mother comfort him and thought “oh good he’s crying.”
After a minute or so, I picked him up off the concrete and held him in my lap. I sat on the concrete and held him on my shoulder. He was calming down and only whimpering. There were several other people around, and Danielle went to get Amelia from the woman who had taken her. Then Liam threw up over my shoulder twice.
I know I’m not yet 30, and there are lots of things I haven’t done, and many experiences I want to have. But I can say, unequivocally, with absolute certainty, that the best moment of my life has already occurred. It happened right there, sitting on the sun-heated concrete beside the pool of an apartment complex, surrounded by strangers, holding my little boy, feeling him breathe, with my back covered in vomit.
The memory of Danielle’s cry and this image of Liam on the bottom of the pool with his floaty sitting on the bank brought me to tears constantly and consistently for the next 24 hours. Because I was literally 15 feet away, but I was being selfish. I assumed someone else was watching him and I was engrossed in my book. And every time the memory overran my consciousness, it brought the conviction that if there was one place I should have been, in my entire life, in the entire universe, I should have been there when he went under.
Somebody should have caught him. My arms should have caught him. More than anything else, that’s what they were made for. The skin, the muscle fiber, the blood flowing through them, the oxygen I breathed, the bones Liam was so interested in, the spirit inhabiting this body was designed and intended to keep him safe–and it failed. I failed. (Don’t worry, I won’t develop a complex or anything; but I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t admit it.)
I came to terms with the conviction when I was finally able to pray and thank God that nothing serious had happened. I still had an emotional knot every time the memory came back (at least once an hour), and I started dealing with the memory, the conviction, the guilt, and the welling tears. I developed a mantra. Whenever I became overwhelmed I just told myself, “remember the vomit.”
So there you have it: the best thing in the world. Take my word for it (don’t try it for yourself, please). Next time life seems bad, the money is running out and it’s only the middle of the month, and you have had all you can stand at work, just remember what’s important. Remember the vomit.
Apologies for going over the 1K word limit. Remember the vomit.