Drowning

The boy hadn’t needed to tread water at first. He could stand just fine by himself in the 4-foot area of the pool, and for a while he just stood there thinking, waving his hands back and forth in ovals through the water like the oars of a boat. The water must have felt cool, refreshing, relaxing. Now, his eyes are set on the deep end, the expanse of cool water just beyond the white and blue buoyed rope. The boy rows his oar-like arms a few more times before beginning to walk forward. He sort of glides through the water, taking a step, then floating upward a bit, before landing lightly on the other foot, much like the man on the moon must have float-walked in June of 1969. And like the man on the moon, he has a mission in mind: One small step for boy, one giant deep end for kid-kind.

Ticka-tacka, ticka-tacka.  The students are typing, their thoughts flowing from their mind into their fingertips. Well, most of the students. One boy, however, is laughing, typing in large font, and though I am approximately twelve feet away, I can see he has typed the lyrics to a nowadays-famous song.

“Jonathan…” I say only his name, with that teacher kind of tone that needs nothing else to be said with it.

Yeeeeees…” Jonathan replies, in that student kind of tone that lets me know maybe I do after all need to say something with it.

“We’re writing poems using our own words. Taking someone else’s work is called plagiarism.”

“Okay, okay,” Jonathan turns around. Select all, delete. I see him start typing on his own, and the plagiarism plight appears to be avoided. For now.

At last, the rope is in front of him. He is standing on his tippy-toes, his neck out-stretched like the giraffes he had gaped at for so long at the Smithsonian National Zoo. Balancing on one toe, like Mother Nature’s own majestic ballerina, the flamingo, he prepares to dive down under the rope. Deep breath in, big dive down, push off from the bottom. Surfacing, he breathes in the beautiful air of the deep end.

For the first few seconds, he breathes in the glory of his victory. The sun seems brighter on this side; the water sparkles, shimmers, glimmers. The boy has graduated from the ranks of child’s play. He is now a true explorer of the bravest caliber.

Those few brilliant seconds pass, and the boy begins to sink. He paddles his two oars frantically, and gulps in another deep breath, as he realizes his two trusty oars may not be enough to guide him through these uncharted waters.

The clock on the wall ticks to 2:09. The bell will ring in a minute, or just less than that. I close the screen of my own laptop, and rise from my chair.

“At this time, please save your poems, and begin to log off of your computers. If you are done, you may print your poem.”

There is a mad shuffling of feet and papers, and a frantic clicking of keys and mouses, as the students understand the limited time they have left.

“Remember, poems are due at the beginning of class tomorrow!” My voice rises above the noise. I hope students catch that last bit. I’ll find out the success of it finding their ears at the beginning of class tomorrow.

I scan the room, and my eyes land on Jonathan.

“She’s gonna freak, man,” Jonathan is laughing with another student. He dashes over to the printer, snatches up his poem, and tosses it on my desk, word-side down.

Riiiiiiing. And with that, the students file out. If only they could leave so quickly and orderly during a fire drill.

I turn over Jonathan’s paper, and my breath quickens. He’s written a poem, and I’m gonna freak alright.

“I’m gonna end this now, I’m gonna end this tonight.

I don’t wanna live right now ‘cause nothing in my life is right.”

I gulp in one more breath before I rush out of the room, and I know what I have to do.

There are two lifeguards sitting high above the pool in thrones like a king and queen, but their power (or boredom) gives them deaf ears.

A college-aged girl hears the boy first, as he yells, “I’m sinking! I’m sinking!”

She hesitates, thinking that perhaps he is playing a game. Battleship: his friends have just shot him down, and he is giving them a dramatic final show. No other children take notice though; neither do the king and queen.

“Are you okay?” she shouts out to the boy.

“I’m sinking! Help, I’m sinking!” he yells again.

This is no sinking ship. This is a drowning boy.

She knows the children all wear bracelets to let the lifeguards and camp counselors know the children’s swimming abilities with a quick glance. Green swimmers can go anywhere in the pool. Yellow may swim in the shallow and middle of the pool; however, there is no deep end for these children.

This boy wears Red: can only “swim” in the shallow area. These children have no swimming abilities: no treading water, no kicking, no calm breathing.

“I’m coming!” The girl begins to swim out toward the boy, though sprained ankle offers no help.

Administrators were able to catch the boy just before he reached his bus. Counselors were called to action. Parents were called and emailed. The boy was questioned at length. All of these actions brought us to today, this meeting.

I am a first-year teacher. I am nervous to be at this meeting. Did I follow protocol? Did I go too far?

She’s gonna freak, man,” I hear Jonathan’s voice in my head again, and I don’t know if this was a prank or a call for help.

“We were able to question Jonathan, and he did admit to having suicidal thoughts,” the counselor is filling me in.

The father’s turn to talk now: “We took Jonathan to a psychologist. He’s been diagnosed with clinical depression.”

I’m not sure how to react, but I offer a sympathetic, slight smile.

“We wanted to thank you for bringing this to our attention,” the father looks down, “Jonathan hasn’t been opening up much these days.”

“After looking at the poem, we think it’s partially been plagiarized from a song, but it does look like there is some original wording in there,” the counselor adds 

I am floating away now. I know I add to the conversation—what I know, what they need to know—but I am floating upward into my thoughts now.

Her heart beats quickly, and her mind, and her arms, and her one good leg, to the beat of a hummingbird’s wings.

“Hold on tight,” she finally reaches the boy, who had held such hope and promise in his heart at the beginning of this mission, “I’m going to need your help. Kick, kick, kick.”

It didn’t seem to take long to get to the boy. It’s getting back to the wall with both their heads above water that will be the challenge.

The boy clings tight to her right arm, and though he tries to kick, he is tired. The girl’s unoccupied left arm propels them somewhat, and both legs kick. Throbbing, her left ankle helps as best it can to get them to the wall. Twenty feet to go.

“Come on” they are both out of breath now. The girl isn’t sure whether she is directing the boy, or trying to keep herself going, “Keep kicking.”

Fifteen feet to go. Two lifeguards in sight, and neither with sight.

Ten feet. Five. One. Wall.

She is breathing too heavy at first to say anything. Then instincts take over.

“Are you okay?” she asks.

The boy breathes heavy, but answers, “Yeah.”

“What’s your name?” she asks, as she pulls herself, then the boy, out of the pool.

“Cage.”

“Cage, I’m Miss Sarah. I think we should go over to the towels and get you dried off. You should rest.” He doesn’t argue. She considers telling him how foolish he is for going to the deep end when he should know better, but she doesn’t.

Instead, she walks away from the pool and toward the safety of dry towels, her shaking hand on his shaking shoulder. What’s important is she saw the danger signs.

She reacted. She’d kept them Both from Drowning.

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