Water droplets fly to and fro. Delighted children scream and shout in exclamation and proclamation of the fun. Thumps of a heart begin to race, pulse and throb at the tip of fingers and the carotids. Warm, encouraging, the big, fat face of the sun exerts its significance. She shivers. Arms folded tightly in a self-soothing hug around her waist, the slowly burning flesh rises in tiny bumps where hairs stand at attention awaiting a death blow. Side-to-side, she rocks from one foot onto the other to avoid the blistering heat of the concrete. The all-too-familiar stench of water being sterilized, emanates and surrounds her entire being. Nausea hits her all at once with the overwhelming resistance of acknowledging the possibility that she will die.
She squats down, grabbing at her insides, pleading for them to not join her outside. She stands. Bile and half-digested french fries and what looks to be chunks of tomato splash and splatter in a stinky, loose puddle at her feet. The screams of joy and exuberance shift into screeches of terror and nightmares. Whistles blow as red-clad, uniformed, tanned, able, youthful personnel descend upon her where she stands. “She’s with me,” one of the red-uniformed youth informs as she lifts herself out of the water and onto the concrete deck in a swift, flowing movement of expertise. Three to four other uniformed personnel gather. “Are you alright?” “Come on over here.” “What’s your name?” “How are you feeling now?” “Call someone over here to clean this up,” along with all sorts of mumbling hit her ears in a jumble of confusion. She blinks. The red-clad youth to whom she belongs sits her down on a plastic-strapped lounge chair and commands a fellow youth to get a towel, then looks into her face, “River. River. Hey, look at me. River.”
A blur waves in at out of River’s focus, “Am I dead?” “No, oh, no. You’re just fine. Do you recognize me?” Her eyes glaze over. She tilts her head back and looks into the sun’s warm face and smiles, “I want to go now.” The fellow youth returns with a towel. The red-clad youth, crouched in front of River wraps the towel around her. “Alright. We can call your parents, and they’ll be here as quick as they can.” The instructor waves off the towel fellow to call. “River. River, how are you feeling?” Slowly, River’s eyes come around to meet the instructor’s; she smiles. The instructor smiles back, “How ya doin’?” “I think I don’t want to die today.” The instructor laughs a small, understanding laugh, “Oh, don’t worry about that. You’re going to be just fine.” “Not if I drown,” River responds, cold, plain. The instructor furrows a brow, “You’re not even in the pool, River. You’re safe right here with me.” River blinks hard and looks into the face of the instructor, “But you told me I had to swim today, and I told you that I didn’t want to die drowning.” Chuckling, the instructor attempts to explain herself, “I thought you would have fun. It’s okay to be a little scared at first. Everyone gets scared the first time. I thought you were just scared of the water. But if you don’t want to swim, you don’t have to swim, okay?” Fiercely, River’s eyes light with fire, “I don’t want to die!”
Thrown a little off balance at the girl’s abruptness and candor, the instructor falls back onto her butt but quickly catches herself and moves to sit beside River in the lounge chair. “It’s alright,” the instructor soothes with a gentle arm wrapped around her; “You don’t have to swim. It’s alright.” At these words, River stands up, throwing the towel off her, “You don’t get it! I don’t want to drown and die!” Confused, the instructor calmly states that, “You don’t have to get in the water. So, you won’t drown.” “But I don’t know how to swim! I’ll drown!” River explodes with sobs and tears.