The Water, Part One.

by Lori Dwyer on February 29, 2012 · 17 comments

Years and years ago, when I was about sixteen, my cousin nearly drowned in our aunt’s backyard pool. I was in the pool with her, just a few feet away.

My cousin was only very young, maybe five or six years old. It was hot and, along with various family members of different degrees if separation, we were enjoying the cool, slightly salty water. I was the oldest amongst ‘the kids’ and kept to myself, floating and daydreaming at the deeper end of the pool while the younger ones splashed in the shallows. The shallow end of the pool was deceptive– rather than sloping down in a gentle gradient, there was a large step about four foot across that served as a knee high wading pool, before it dropped very sharply into water that was more than five foot deep.

I don’t remember how it happened. I’m not sure if I even saw the moment she stepped or slipped out of her depth. All I know is that suddenly, just four feet away across the sparkling blue water, the only thing clearly visible was my cousin’s hat, floating on the surface, calmly and peacefully… not at all betraying the fact that my cousin was now thirty centimeters under the water beneath it, struggling furiously to break herself back up, clawing in the direction of oxygen.

I froze. Dumbstruck. So horrified and shocked by what was in front of me that I could not move to save her.

I don’t know who screamed her name– “Bianca!!!”– but I’m almost sure it wasn’t me. Her mum ‘left’ the closed in patio area, maybe three meters away… I don’t know the right word to use there. It’s not ‘ran’ or ‘sprinted’, even ‘flew’ isn’t quite accurate enough. There isn’t an adjective for it, and there needs to be– the parental act of moving faster than you thought possible, of instinct producing springing steps that cover meters at a time. When you’re not even aware that you’ve reacted until you’ve done so.

Bianca’s mum dove, a long straight line in denim and white that I can still see shooting through sunlight and past the poolside greenery. She grabbed her daughter, pulled her from the pool and hit her square across the back; her hair and clothes dripping, her eyes wide with a steely panic.

My cousin’s tiny body curled into itself and flung open again. She gagged and vomited liters of water out onto the clay tiles, where it dried almost instantly in the bake of the sun.

She was fine– scared and shaking, but none the worse for what happened. There was an occasional nervous, relieved laughter amongst the adults; the kind of laughter that is almost eerie because it’s so very close to the hysterical screaming that would have echoed around that patio should Bianca’s mum had not been so damn quick.

For years afterwards I felt the kind of shame that makes you blush pink when you think of the event, even when you’re all alone and you’re the only one who knows about it. I was only metres away and could have helped her, literally within the space of a second. I know now it’s not an entirely uncommon thing to happen, but even discovering that fact wasn’t enough to silence the voice in my mind.

Because what would happen one day when I had children of my own..? Would I even been quick enough to do what Bianca’s mum had done, to jump in fully clothed and grab my child? Or would I hesitate at the edge of cold water for just that second too long?

To be continued…

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Shellye March 10, 2012 at 4:14 pm

I'm glad Bianca's mother got to her in time.


Shellye March 10, 2012 at 4:13 pm

I can't swim either. Thankfully, my husband can.

My cousin, Scotty, was two years old at the time, and he was a little dare devil. He often scared the heck out of all of us. One time, we were at a public pool and Scotty makes his way around to the ten foot end of the pool. He just jumps in, which sent his mother into hysterics! And he surfaced and made his way out like he knew how to swim, like it was nothing! OMG, his mom flipped out!!! She made him go to the baby pool with her, and he was all like, "I hate the stupid baby pool!" We weren't sure whether or not to be scared or impressed! I can't say I blamed her though.


Lou Lou March 6, 2012 at 8:45 am

You are the bravest women I know.


Marlene March 4, 2012 at 8:54 pm

You just described a nightmare that I have had many times over. Water scares the shit out of me!


Kelloggsville March 1, 2012 at 3:04 am

The first time we took our daughter to Australia she was 4 and couldnt swim. I felt quite a mother failure when I saw all the teeny tots swimming around. Hubby taught her that holiday in a pool at Ayres rock. That is an aside to me saying: it is the parents responsibility to watch and save and mums are awesome for that. Teenage girls do not have the same response mechanisms, many adults dont too! We don't count under 18s into our leader to child ratio for many reasons and that is one of them. These sort of guilty feelings last a lifetime but each time they rise remember to say 'hey guilt, you are wrong, it was ok' x


Watershedd February 29, 2012 at 6:58 pm

Some years ago, my father was working on the roof at home. He had suffered a series of injuries over the past working on roofs and in the ceiling. When I heard the thud, I wondered about Dad, but Mum indicated that he'd come down from the roof a short time before, so I didn't go check. Not too long later, I went out the back of the house and there was Dad lying on the ground, head partially under the house. I thought he was dead. I screamed for Mum, who told me later my cry had 'that' sound. Then my Dad rolled out from under the house and asked me what was wrong. I went white, started to shake uncontrollably and cried. You see, Dad had gone from working on the roof, to checking one of the stumps under the house.

All this, to tell you that even someone used to seeing people in various states of dismemberment or injury, a healthcare worked, can freeze when it's someone they know in harm's way. There is no shame. I suspect had he not moved, I'd have been down on the ground doing CPR. Time slows down in such instances.


Toushka Lee February 29, 2012 at 6:45 pm

When I was 9, my brother (7) was playing in a river we were camping near. I was on the bank with my mum. My brother got into some trouble and I immediately reacted and jumped in to save him. I should have just alerted my mum who was sitting right next to me…My dad was further down the bank with my other brother.

I ended up stuck in whatever bizarre cross current thing he was stuck in and was being pulled under with him. My Dad had to save both of us from drowning.

Maybe you couldn't have helped and would have gotten in the way anyway. Bianca's mum was onto it. Mum's are awesome.

Looking forward to reading part two.


L. Avery Brown February 29, 2012 at 4:53 pm

Lori…I've followed your blog through the terrific ups and the tremendous downs and I'd be so honored if you'd accept an award from me because when I was asked to 'carry it on' your blog immediately popped into my mind.



Tony February 29, 2012 at 2:04 pm

The innocent mind of a 16 year old girl is far different to the protective instincts of a mum.
When I was a young fella, I played cricket and was a wicket keeper, I got hit in the head by a ball and knocked clean out. My mum was never a well woman, she spent most of her life in and out of hospitals, but this day she sprinted down a large bank and hurdled the gulley at the bottom. For weeks it was "Did you see Mrs R jump that gully!" Mums have super powers when it comes to their kids.


Karen February 29, 2012 at 1:07 pm

I (we) lost my niece at the age of 5 and a half to a drowning accident in a huge communal pool…Her father swam over her oblivious to the fact that she was floating between him and the depths of that pool. Horrific. Her mother was on the side, her bad eyesight meant she had seen another little girl with an orange swimming costume on seconds earlier and thought it was her daughter, safe and sound. This happened in 1992 and I still cannot forget her. Tragic accident and no one's fault…really. We were not present when it happened. But when we got back from camping up country (in Burundi) we were very much involved. It being a third world country there were no funeral homes …and I was asked by my sister-in-law to help her. It was the hardest thing anyone has ever asked me before or since: wash and prepare her body for burial at the local mosque. My heart still bleeds to this day…it was so hard and so unbearable. Losing a child is excrutiatingly painful. As her aunt, I still feel grief to this day years later.


Miss Pink February 29, 2012 at 12:25 pm


Did you know that I cannot swim?
I can't. Not even to save my life.
Teaching Bluey to swim was so so important to me. He could swim completely unaided, to save his life by 3 years old. We stopped his lessons at 4 because well, it was all stroke and perfecting it. He can do freestyle, he doesn't need backstroke.
Greenie has never had a lesson though. He is learning to swim, still needs assistance at almost 3.
It is so so hard to teach a child to swim when you can't yourself. I know I should fix that but it just feels so stupid and embarrassing at this point. I can't swim, and I accept that.

What you did was just how things were. No one blames you or thinks badly of you for it. You were a child yourself, and it wasn't your job to make sure all the kids were safe.


valmack February 29, 2012 at 11:46 am

OMG, that has me feeling sooo sick to my stomach. I can imagine that memory holding you…
I am sure your mama instinct would kick in with your own children…
Thank God Bianca was okay. Let yourself off the hook on this one. But gives me pause, as I have let my daughter, since moving to Aus., swim in pools with other kids, supervising from the sidelines, with her water wings on…at the ready. But she is only three and I would never be so relaxed in the States. I am not sure which would look less attractive, me in a swimsuit or me fully clothed soaking after going in for a save?! Either way, that is clearly not the concern here. Her safety is our priority and should not have been in the hands of other children. That is a lot of pressure. Thanks for this wake up call and food for thought. Now on to arrange those swimming lessons.


Sarah February 29, 2012 at 11:38 am

When I was maybe 7 I was in the pool with my brother, our toddler brother wandering around the edges. Suddenly my baby brother just rolled forward into the water. My mother was stretched out on a deck chair, sunglasses on, reading the paper. She went from what looked like complete relaxation to being in the water retrieving my brother instantly. It is an image that stays with me, and I hope that as a parent one day I will be as awesome as my mother.


jadine February 29, 2012 at 11:34 am

Whew. I know the feeling of not taking action when I "should" have, and also the feeling of reacting without even realizing it. Intense.


Caitlyn Nicholas February 29, 2012 at 8:46 am

You think so fast it feels like time stands still, and you react like a reflex. It's instinctive.


Steph(anie) February 29, 2012 at 8:39 am

This gave me chills.


Valerie February 29, 2012 at 9:44 am

When I first read this I thought it said 'drown' instead of 'nearly drowned'. I was so mad knowing that if your cousin survived then she surely didn't drown, then I re-read it & was happy again.
I was a lifeguard for many years & now a mom. The amount of fear & panic you feel the instance something bad happens in water & someone is drowning or needing help is un-describable, but you jump into action quickly trained or not. The panic is sort of a jump start to make you react..
I never had that when I was a kid though either


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