I was confused when I opened my eyes. Why wasnt I dressed for school? Why was it so hot in February?
Oh, right. We were in Miami. I had just turned 13, and my family was attending our first Waite reunion with my dads brothers. Arguments had arisen among the uncles, however, so the previous day, my family had escaped the conflict by moving to a nearby motel.
My sisters and I were blissfully ignorant of these family tensions. Instead, we were enjoying the novelty of the motel, especially the swimming pool that beckoned us from below our window.
The day was perfect, other than my mothers relentless insistence that my sisters and I dress alike. I hadnt minded so much when I was little, but by my age, it was unbearable to don a girlish bathing suit like my twerpy kid sisters. I mean, I was almost in high school! My older sister was lucky; shed outgrown childrens clothing, so she was usually exempted from this barbaric practice. But me? I was cursed with a childish body, and doubly cursed that my grammar school sister was already taller than I. It was horrible. Just horrible.
My sisters and I spent the afternoon around the pool, alternately swimming and playing shuffleboard. Around mid-afternoon, as I was attempting to perfect my pathetic underwater somersault, I became aware of a commotion in the deep end of the pool.
I stopped to stare. Several people had jumped into the water near the high-diving board and were yelling about something. I couldnt tell if it was a game, a drill, or an emergency.
It was an emergency. Before long, the limp body of a child was dragged out of the water and laid on the deck. Adults surrounded him, blocking my view. All the children stopped their play and quietly left the pool without instruction. It just didnt seem right to keep swimming when a child might be hurt.
In the absence of a 9-1-1 system, it seemed like an eternity before paramedics arrived. They set to work on the boy as we all stared in eerie silence. Word spread that the boy was a vacationer like us. He was 8 years old, and had jumped off the 10-foot- high diving board but had not come back up. Evidently, the boy was not an especially strong swimmer, and the lifeguard hadnt noticed the child at the bottom of the pool. As a matter of fact, the lifeguard didnt see much of anything until another child found the boy and tried to pull him out. No one knew for sure how long hed been there.
After yet another eternity, the paramedics strapped the boy to the gurney and wheeled him past the gawking children and into a waiting ambulance. I couldnt stop staring. Id never seen someone wearing an oxygen mask before, and I didnt understand why I felt so sad. How could I be sad for someone Id never met?
Life gradually returned to normal around the pool, at least in the eyes of a self-absorbed 13-year-old. I resumed my swimming, and my sisters resumed their bickering. The afternoon passed quickly.
That evening, we learned the end of the story. The 8-year-old boy had been pronounced dead on arrival at the local hospital. Perhaps he was dead when he was pulled from the pool. Drowned.
I had so many questions. Why had the kid jumped off a high diving board if he wasnt a strong swimmer? Why hadnt the parents been watching? Why hadnt the lifeguard been watching? In my childish way, I suppose I was asking, why doesnt this make sense? Isnt life supposed to be fair?
In the ensuing days, my questions mounted. Hadnt I been taught that if children said their prayers every night, God would take care of them? I thought this meant good guys would be rewarded and bad guys would suffer. Had I been lied to? Was this some big conspiracy like Santa Claus, meant to keep children happy?
The best my parents could say was that we dont always understand why God permits bad things to happen. They said God never causes evil, but because of free will, God allows it. They said I should pray for the boy and his family. Their words did little to comfort me.
I returned home at the end of the week, weighed down by a lesson no one wants to learn. And yet, I had a nagging sense that my parents might be right, that God cradles us through tragedy, that God softens our pain, that we can rely on God when were too weak to stand.
Still, I couldnt stop thinking about the boy at the pool, and how his parents had traveled to Florida with three children and returned home with two. The world was a harder place than Id realized. The need for God was great.
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer.