Sunday, November 19, 2006


When I hear the word "hero" images of people I know and admire break over me. I could tell you of my mother's life and how beautiful her strength is...I could write about my sister's stubborn refusal to succumb to her sorrow and how this inspires me. I could write about M. and how his heroics have taught me what love is...The only thing is, so many heroes have made a difference in my life. Directly, by offering me support and kindness...and indirectly, by sharing their stories, their vision, their art--and drawing the sky down so that I can almost touch it myself.

What has been harder for me is the acknowledgement of my own heroic efforts in life. I look at the little girl in the picture here and I want to reach back over the years and tell her I'm won't always be gentle and you won't always treat yourself with the love you deserve. Hero...what this word means is tenacity, the fight not to give into whatever trials are laid out before you...sometimes, it means getting out of bed every morning, brushing your teeth, and moving through the day. Sometimes, it means saving a life beyond your own. I can say that I have done both, with the story to prove it...

One teenaged summer, I thought that being a lifeguard would mean I could sit in the sun by a pool and feel the season's warmth sink into me. What's more, I'd be paid money to do this! It was, actually, much more about scrubbing nasty yeasty floors with a brush and Lysol and mixing toxic chemicals that burned my throat in the pump room. But, I didn't realize this until it was too late. August came and I was burned out on this job...disillusioned at how the summer was ending. When they asked if I'd be on the list for next year I shrugged. I was unsure. I sulked by the pool watching the bees blaze in and out of the honeysuckle on the chain-link partner for the day had gone into the pump room on her shift to fix the PH balance and the water was crowded, I was feeling annoyed.

I saw a little scrawny boy, about four years old, the age I was in this photo above, with a young babysitter even younger than me. She was busy lotioning herself and tossing her hair over her tanned shoulder and not paying attention the boy at all. He had the darkest eyes--unexpected with his fair skin and red hair. Even more unexpected was the way they watched me--open wide--as he sank beneath the water, open-mouthed just like a fish. I stood up. I waited one heartbeat to see if he was playing or not. I looked around frantically for my partner--I blew my whistle as they told us to in training. Three short blasts of sound, exploding from my breath. She didn't come out of the pump room...the little boy didn't come back up...the babysitter didn't notice.

I went in after him. By now, the few mothers present poolside that day realized the fifteen-year-old lifeguard had a problem. I didn't know this--I only knew I had to reach that boy as he sank like a stone away from me, his eyes never leaving mine. It was only twelve feet deep, still, the bottom seemed to go on forever. My lungs were bursting, but I grabbed him around the waist, pushed hard off the pool floor, and rocketed to the top with the boy in my arms. He was limp and this terrified me...I did the cross-arm carry, swimming over to the side and heaving him up with every ounce of strength I had. The moms covered their mouths, but no one did anything. I remember thinking they're the adults here. But, I turned the boy onto his back, checked his respirations and pulse like I had been taught just a few months before. I gave him two quick breaths when I realized he needed them...and that was it, he coughed and spewed water like a geyser and I turned him over onto his side and started to cry. Everyone at the pool had huddled around us, including the errant babysitter and my vanishing-on-duty partner. The boy sat up and looked at me again, biggest eyes in the world.
"Am I in trouble?" he asked me, and I shook my head.
The babysitter interrupted, "No, but I am."
Someone gave us towels and eventually after people telling me "Good job" and the babysitter thanking me so profusely she'd broken out into a sheen of sweat, I sat back down, a hero in my plastic chair, and resumed my observation of the chlorinated death trap and the delirious bees.


Blogger Remiman said...

Left-Handed Trees,
Well I hope your satisfied.... You made me cry ;-(

That is a beautifully told story. You were indeed a hero!

12:33 PM  
Blogger rising to the challenge said...

Such beautiful story-telling. Such vivid memories. A true heroine.
Sending you good thoughts,

1:37 PM  
Blogger b/sistersshoes said...

What a fantasic story, from a very good story teller.

You are indeed a hero.
love to you

3:36 PM  
Blogger Amber said...

WOW! Wow wow wow! What a carzy, amazing memory to have as part of your life-story! You ARE a hero. Some mom would have had the biggest pain of her life, if you had not been put in that path! THINK about it! As a mom. You saved many lives that day in sun, Delia.
Now I adore you even more. ;)

ox :)

3:56 PM  
Blogger giggles said...

Indeed, you are a well deserved hero! Great story, extremely touching!Thanks for sharing!

5:19 PM  
Blogger paris parfait said...

Beautiful story - thankfully with a happy ending. And you brought a tear to my eye with your words about the little girl in the picture and wanting to reach back over the years - and say that "life won't always be gentle and you won't always treat yourself with the love you deserve." Wonderful post!

6:09 PM  
Blogger la vie en rose said...

wow! what a story. you are a hero!

9:46 PM  
Blogger Colorsonmymind said...

Oh Hero are wonderful.

10:26 PM  
Blogger Deb R said...

Wow! That's amazing! And I thought of the same thing Amber said - you were some mother's hero for sure that day, whether she knew it or not.

So I'm curious - did you work as a lifeguard the next summer or not?

12:31 AM  
Blogger Deb R said...

PS - You were an adorable little girl!

12:31 AM  
Blogger Ali la Loca said...

This was gripping, scary, and overwhelming as I'm sure it was for you at the moment. What a great storyteller you are. I'm so glad that you, the teenaged lifeguard, had your wits about you and were well trained. Shame nobody else seemed to be racing to help, but perhaps that's why you were there in the first place.

7:22 AM  
Blogger Left-handed Trees... said...

Thank you all for reading and commenting! To reply...I never worked as a lifeguard again after the summer passed. I did, however, have to pull my Rosie from a pool just this past August--which was infinitely more frightening and surreal to me...

But, that's a whole other story...


7:33 AM  
Blogger Jane Poe (aka Deborah) said...

What an important acknowledgement of your inner heroine. I can imagine how terrifying that was for a younsg girl. Beautiful story - thank you for sharing. much peace, JP

8:18 AM  
Blogger melba said...

I was on the edge of my seat! You SAVED a life! That is incredible. You are a Hero!

Your story scared me a bit. I hold Ethan and Maggie close because I am already concerned about a million dangers. And I remember being an unaware babysitter. That is why their only babysitters are older relative. Something can still happen, but I feel a little safer.

9:17 AM  
Anonymous acumamakiki said...

wow. this has me in tears, especially his brown eyes on yours the entire time. wow.

2:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm speachless.

9:24 PM  
Blogger deirdre said...

It's been a while since I leaned into the screen, and the edge of my seat, to read a story more closely. Wow. I wonder if that little boy remembers it too?

12:28 AM  
Blogger Laini Taylor said...

Great story -- so tense! And love the last line and the delirious bees. That really recalls summer days at the community pool. In my case, they were military base pools that my mom took us to all summer long in Virginia when we were kids. One time when I was 6 or 7 I was going off the high dive and slipped and fell right under the hand rail. . . down onto the concrete. Miraculously didn't break anything (though one whole side of me was like a skinned knee), but I can imagine I scared the hell out of my mother and the teenaged lifeguards!

11:03 AM  
Blogger Becoming Amethyst said...

had to come back to read this one again - wow! what a hero! :D

5:16 PM  
Blogger [a} said...

beautiful. you actually have the satisfaction of knowing you are a real lifesaver!

this is very well-written, i admire your style.

8:27 AM  
Blogger blackdaisies said...

: ) wow ... this took me back to my own lifeguard days!

such a beautiful story of finding the hero in you :)

6:04 PM  

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