Not all ordinary days remain that way, but sometimes I wish they would.
One sunny summer day, my friend Donna and I go to my hometown's public country club pool. It's my first time there. We park our cars in the crowded lot and enter the pool area where we secure chairs, leave our stuff and head right to the water because it is very hot.
Donna was a synchronized swimmer in college combining her natural talents for ballet and swimming. She once swam the width of Cayuga Lake in New York while her dad rowed a canoe beside her. On top of this, she worked every summer during school as a lifeguard. Water is second nature for her.
At the pool this day in the late '70s, Donna is on a mission to teach me how to dive. I spent most of my summers at the beach riding waves or diving under them. I learned how to swim under the tutelage of a lifeguard named Dale in an off-shore lake at the age of 10. I love the water, but fear putting my head down and propelling myself into a pool where I feel sure I will break my neck or embarrass myself, both equally frightening.
Standing on the edge of the deep pool during adult swim, she patiently instructs me time and time again as though I am one of her 8-year-old students. We actually start with my knees bent, my hands positioned over my head, me trying to fall forward in what I suppose is a fetal position for new divers.
When we grow tired of that, we wander around the pool and soon bump into a woman named Laurie who takes ballet with us. Donna and I are heavily involved in ballet classes at a small, local studio where the students are all adults. Laurie is standing alongside the large pool where her children are swimming. She is very friendly, and we eventually move to sit with her and two of her kids in the shaded area at the far end of the pool. Her two girls play in the grass, and we enjoy girl-talk for a while.
As if lightning has suddenly struck, Laurie stands up and says she needs to check on her son. As we walk toward the jammed larger pool, we notice a crowd gathered on the concrete. I recognize one of the lifeguards as a teacher at my high school. When we get closer, we see a boy lying on the concrete and a lifeguard giving him CPR.
Laurie quickly identifies the boy as her son. She starts saying, "He's going to be all right, isn't he? He's going to be all right. He's going to be all right, right?" The longer the lifeguard keeps giving him CPR, the more Donna and I know he isn't ever going to be OK.
As the lifeguards try to explain that an ambulance has been called and they will be going to the hospital down the street, Laurie just keeps repeating, "He's going to be all right. He's going to be all right."
Donna and I both know the boy is dead and stand there in horror. Donna feels sick to her stomach and grateful that she never experienced this in all the years that she lifeguarded.
I somehow know Laurie needs help and she needs help immediately. Without thinking, I hear myself say, "You go to the hospital in the ambulance and I will take the girls home and wait for your husband. Just give me your address and go. The girls will be fine and I'll stay with them."
Like an automaton, she gives me the address and directions. I gather the girls and their stuff and take them home as Laurie and her son are escorted to the ambulance. The older girl asks questions that are impossible for me to answer truthfully. I lie as gently as I can as we wait in Laurie's beautiful house for her husband to arrive. When he comes home, I say, "You need to drive to Tri-County Hospital immediately. There has been an accident at the pool and Laurie is waiting for you."
Soon, the children's aunt arrives, and I leave.
I never see Laurie again. I fear I will be a haunting reminder of that day. However, my childhood friend Evelyn mentions Laurie's name years later. After I tell Evelyn the story, she informs me that Laurie and her husband had another child a few years after their son drowned that day, after his arm got stuck in one of the filters trapping him underwater. In the blink of an eye, an ordinary day at the pool changed everything.