Today you almost died. I was sitting right there, close by and didn’t even see you. You and Faith had been just a few feet behind me on the shore climbing a boulder, and I was keeping an eye on your other sisters splashing in the lake. You were nowhere near the water. The lake was so still; the sky so clear; the sand so soft. And then you almost drowned.
“Mom, I think I went a little too far out,” you whispered in my ear. I didn’t see you walk up until you appeared beside me, terrified and dripping. Your little six-year-old body was shaking.
“What?” I said. You had been on the rock behind me, you see.
“Well, I wanted to see how far out into the water I could go.”
“What??” my repeated cry echoed across the lake. I could feel the color draining from my face.
“I got out really far,” you said, “and then I couldn’t touch the bottom anymore, and I couldn’t call for help because the water was covering my mouth.”
It took a moment before I could coherently respond. “Henry,” I whispered, trying to choke back my own panic, “how did you get back?”
“Well, I tried to get back closer to where I could touch the bottom, but the water was taking me away from shore.” You fidgeted with the tie on your orange fishy swim shorts and dug your toe in the sand before telling me the rest. “Finally, I sank down into the water and then the bottom was there, and I could touch it with my tippy toes, so I just walked back.”
You shrugged as you said that last bit as if it wasn’t really that big of a deal, and to tell the truth I’m a little blurry on what happened next. I remember hugging you and trying to purposely speak calmly so you wouldn’t freak out while still trying to impress upon you the seriousness of the situation and how you could have died and I would never have even known you where you went and how I would never be ok again if that had happened and how much I would miss you and cry every day and how you are NEVER to do that again and NEVER EVER EVER!!!
You’re lucky I didn’t crush you from holding you so tight. And then in some magnificent feat of mothering, I carried you back into the lake myself and held you there, curled up in my arms, and helped you float on the water until you weren’t scared anymore. Swimming lessons start on Monday, and I didn’t want you to be afraid.
There were other things, though, that I didn’t tell you today. The lake? The still lake with the warm water and gently sloping beach? It’s not actually a lake. It’s a flooded rock quarry. The bottom is uneven and has places that drop off twenty to fifty feet deep. If you had sunk down in one of those places, you would not have found footing so close beneath your feet.
You would have simply slid away into the water, and since I didn’t even see you sneak into the lake, I would not have known you were gone. I would have looked for you on the shore, in the wrong place. They would have had to drag the lake, and you would have died. On my watch.
Two families I know of this summer, both friends of friends, have had children die in terrible accidents. I don’t know why. You are alive. You were a shadow away from death, yet you live. Their boys are dead and mine is alive. You are alive, and I don’t know why. Thank you, Lord, for returning my son to me.
We packed up and came home shortly after that, and you spent the rest of the day playing happily like nothing had happened because you are six. But I didn’t. After you kids went to bed, I sat on the couch with your dad and cried all evening. Because, you see, you scared the shit out of me. You don’t really seem to understand what almost happened today, but I do. I almost lost you today. Today you almost died.