Waterless drowning
    Photo by Natalie Krebs / North by Northwestern
    He balanced against the railing. Its silvery coat reflected the sun and I knew the heat was sizzling his palms. His eyes didn’t show pain though, only glimpses of fear. He lifted his right foot off the pebbly ground and let it hover above the still water of the swimming pool.

    My mouth was shut tight, but I ignored the plea of my lungs. Breathing couldn’t distract me from this moment. 

    His foot trembled as the distance closed. He didn’t need to be scared. He was already free, he just didn’t remember. But then it occurred to me that every time, he saw lava, not water bubbling below in the pool. 

    He never learned what most kids experienced every summer. He never begged his mom to take him to the pool or the beach. He never considered singing in the rain or sailing off in a boat. Water was nothing less than an enemy. 

    A suffocating one.

    I waded a couple feet away from the chlorine-dipped stairs, hoping to evaporate his nervousness away with me. A group of kids splashed and yelled in the deep end. His shoulders tensed. Mine did too. He was so close to achieving what he believed to be unachievable. 

    Nothing I could say would allow him to overcome that haunting tragedy. I learned it was better to not say anything. Not all water collects in a dooming mass. Not all water becomes that flood. Not all water sets out to kill. 

    That day water did come together. That day water did become a flood. That day his father was killed. Not all water murders, but that water did.

    A small girl jumped off the side and the consequence was an overwhelming splash. The water speckled his right arm and he cringed. He didn’t move. His foot still hovered, his hand now turned white from his grip on the railing. 

    He knew his dad had to save those people. Because of his bravery, more people grace the earth today. His anger must be placed somewhere, though. Thus, water is the enemy.

    My fingers became wrinkled and the sun hovered deeper. I waded towards the stairs and sat on the top step, sending gentle waves over my feet. He was simply staring down, lost in the torturous battle of his past.

    These were the bad days; the days that he would sooner drown within his mind than in the actual water if he suffered here any longer.

    I knew he would forget again soon and lose his determination. The disease always threatened this monumental moment, because soon there would be nothing monumental about it.

    Alzheimer’s would see to it that it never even happened in his mind, even though he had achieved it too many times to count. He would forever remember why water was his owner, but he would never remember that he didn’t drown in it at all. 

    “Grandpa,” I said, grabbing his hand. “Let’s take a walk.” He relaxed and easily relinquished his post at the head of the swimming pool.   

    "Walking, I like that idea,” he said, leaving the pool untouched behind him. “I’ve just never liked the water."

    And I listened to the story of how his father died in a flood.  


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