Life is a Gift
Posted June 5, 2010on:
A few weeks back, we opened our pool. Today, I got a phone call… not a phone call. The phone call. The one you hope you never get, but know someday, you will because it’s life. It’s death, actually. But nevertheless, part of life.
My mother is dying. Cancer, stage 4, which means the little bastards have already metastasized and begun their widespread invasion over borders into neighboring territories. Hip, pelvis, spine, ribs. It’s bone deep, it’s spreading and it’s a death sentence.
My sister called just as I was leaving work this evening with the news. I’m numb. Shell-shocked. And pissed the hell off. I was just sitting here, shaking my fist at the heavens when my eyes fell on my giant rubber duckie. It was a gift for my pool. The duck just had her maiden swim two weeks ago when we uncovered the pool for the season and then I brought her back inside. I’m staring at the duck, vibrating with fury at this utter helplessness I feel and remembered something that happened when I was about eight or nine.
We were on vacation, driving from New York down to Florida with my grandparents. My job was to look for the 8 Days Motor Inns, our haven after a long day of driving. The chain has since dropped the “8” from their name, but it’s the same place.
At one such inn – forgive me, but I no longer remember where – there was a pool. A large round pool in the middle of a sunny expanse of concrete patio with bright blue umbrella tables. I remember they were blue because they were an exact match to my pretty new bathing suit, which I wore for the first time that day. We’d hardly finished checking in when my sister and I were already dressed and begging for the pool. My grandparents bought me a Mickey Mouse pool float and my sister got a pair of Minnie Mouse plastic sunglasses. We were dancing with impatience while they unpacked necessities for the next day, decide where to eat, had a cigarette or twelve and then tried to blow up my tube. Finally, we were there.
I, with my plastic float, did a cannon ball into the center. My sister walked delicately down the steps, one at a time, at the rate of one every thirty minutes, clutching my grandmother’s hand. And then my mother joined us. First, stepping down the first three steps, and then, a short plunge to the center, which – according to the depth markings – should have been four feet.
It was, perhaps, four feet at the perimeter, but at the center of a round pool, it was closer to six. Over my mother’s head.
She doesn’t know how to swim.
It was instantly clear she was in trouble. Her eyes went wide. Her mouth opened in a scream she couldn’t form. My grandmother was hysterical. My grandfather was emptying his pockets, stripping off his shoes. And I, in my tiny plastic Disney World tube, made in Taiwan, paddled out to save her.
She clutched the tube… well, for dear life, which is exactly what it was. Sucked in air, clutched harder, fighting the sinking sensation she could still feel. And started to pull me under.
“Mommy, you’re pulling me under!” I tried to tell her, but I was swallowing water, too. She was still fighting, still trying to find a foothold where there was none. I thought if I could wriggle out from the tube and give it to her, I could make it back to the steps on my own. I was already a fair swimmer. But I was unable to get enough air to dip beneath the rim.
“Mommy!” I tried again. “You’re pulling me down.”
Eyes popped, mouth struggling to pull in air, she somehow managed to let go of her life line and push me toward the steps.
And went down for the last time.
That’s when another guest reached in and pulled her to safety.
Later, much later, after everyone’s heart rates had normalized, the rescuer profusely thanked, rewarded, and offered a child to be named after him, it occurred to me that she’d saved me. At the risk of losing her own life, she’d saved me. When I asked why, when I asked how she could do that, she just shrugged and said, “It’s what mothers do. You’ll understand it when you’re a mother.”
She was right. I do.
This evening, my sister and I discussed bone marrow donation. Would I?
It’ll be painful, she reminded me.
I know. Don’t care. It’s something to hold onto, something that makes me feel less helpless, something that gives me hope. She gave me life – twice. Now, I hope to repay that gift.