I saved a little girl once. She was drowning in a 3 foot deep section of a community pool patrolled by lifeguards and full of people.
It was an exceptionally hot summer day in Payson, Utah, sometime in the summer of 1976. I had gone to the pool with my cousins and this place was packed. Kids were bobbing and playing everywhere, splashing water, jumping, leaping and laughing. Moms and big sisters were lounging on pool chairs slathered in Hawaiian Tropic or Johnson & Johnson's Baby Oil, sunglasses perched on their faces; towels were stretched out on the grass and on the concrete, little children were laying in puddles on the concrete walkway in the sun warming up and bouncing up again and they were off, launching themselves back into the pool. Babies were napping in strollers under cover, and no doubt there were any number of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and apples and oranges, with a smattering of Fritos, and swigs of 7-Up and Tab, eaten and drunk that day.
I was 6 years old, wore pig tails tied with ribbons, had pink cheeks and was having a grand and glorious time. I loved the pool. I loved water. Going swimming and splashing was one of my very favorite things to do. I was happy as a little clam.
I had just gotten in the pool, walked down the stairs and into the water and was making my way through the crowd when I spotted someone struggling in the water. There was some awkward splashing and their face was not staying above the water, and their arms and hands were flailing for purchase to something solid and life saving. They were just out of reach of the side of the pool, and right where it started getting gradually deeper.
I distinctly remember looking at these big, panicked, brown eyes bobbing in and out of small waves, a little pale face framed by dark hair. I comprehended that something was wrong and that this was not o.k. I remember the feeling and the thought of “It’s o.k. Walk to her.” And then “Put your arms out.” And so I did these things. I walked and I opened my arms.
It was a little girl, maybe 3 or 4 years old, and she gripped on to me as I put my little arms around her. She was able to pull her head out of the water then and I held her and walked back to the stairs. I helped her out of the pool and said “Where’s your Mommy?” and she just looked big-eyed at me and shook her head.
So, I took her by the hand and we walked in the sunshine under an azure blue sky, our little feet pattering and splashing along the warm, wet steamy concrete with its occasional cool puddles, amidst the squeals and laughter, and the sound of the diving board springs and splashes, looking for her mom. She gripped my hand and walked close. We wove our way through the throng of lounge chairs and she suddenly let go of my hand and ran for a woman in a black bathing suit stretched out on a lounge chair, and that was it.
The mother did not know I was there and I did not talk to her. The little girl briefly looked at me as she ran, but did not turn back or reference me to her mother.
And so I turned around, feeling warm and good inside, and walked back to the swimming pool, smiled and launched myself back in to the water.