When I was five, I fell in a pool and drowned. Well it wasn’t exactly a fall. And clearly, I am alive.
We’re talking about an above-ground pool, shallow enough for most of the kids to stand with their heads out of water. It wasn’t our pool. My parents were renters. Whenever I wanted to swim at the neighbors’ my mother asked if adults would be present. I always said yes, though I didn’t know for sure. I assumed we’d have some supervision, so it wasn’t really a lie.
And when does a kid become old enough to watch out for all of the others? Sixteen? Thirteen? Eleven? Ten? Kids of all ages flocked to the pool, some of them very large.
The pool was metal, white on the outside, with a tropical turquoise lining, the perfect summer oasis for a gaggle of sweaty urchins. The only way to get in the pool was to climb its tiny ladder, which seemed immense to me at the time, as though I were scaling Mount Everest. There was no platform or diving board, just a pair of high-arched handrails. Too shallow for diving, but I didn’t know. I guess no one else knew either.
I plunged in head-first, and the world fell silent. So odd, with such ruckus about. I remember floating at the bottom of the pool. Who knew you could float underwater? Everything was perfect and quiet down there. No screaming, no splashing, just dreamy blueness pierced by a long shaft of sunlight. I could see the surface, so far, far away and somewhere above it, the sun.
I stayed on the bottom for a very long time, watching light tickle the water. I felt like I could lie there forever, hypnotized by the sea. Had I been enchanted? Was I a mermaid? I couldn’t see my legs to tell if they had become a tail. Maybe I was a chlorine fish? I didn’t seem to need air.
I don’t remember why I returned to the surface when the world below was so pleasant. But when I emerged, I was alone. The children had all run away. I stood in the pool, head above water, wondering what had happened. Where were the parents and emergency men? Why hadn’t they been called? I climbed from the pool and searched for the others, but everyone else had gone home, like I never existed or they hadn’t come. Were they planning to simply forget?
I never swam in that pool again, though a lot of the other kids did. I just walked home, dried myself off, and pretended that I still had friends.