My grandpa’s big in-ground pool was busy that summer day in 1965, filled with quite a good selection of his grandchildren. I was three years old and desperately wanted to hang out with my older cousins who were playing games in the pool, but I was too small and couldn’t swim at all. So I sat and pouted at the pool’s edge in my aqua-blue ruffled swimsuit, dangling my legs in the water, wishing I were older and taller and stronger, like I felt I was inside. My mother offered me a float ring shaped like a duck, and I turned her down, offended. I don’t want that. It’s uncool. No one else is using one. Still trying to attempt to cheer me, my mom then offered to get in the pool with me and hold me. I looked at her with the most withering look a three-year-old can manage. Only babies get held in the pool. She sighed, and looked sad and a little peeved. I was sensitive.

And manipulative! When I surmised that my mom was trying to please me, I thought, hmmmm. I knew that around the inside perimeter of the deep end, there was a small ledge that was just big enough for me to walk on with my head above the water, if I held onto the outside concrete lip of the pool. My mom had let me do it many times, with her behind me in the water. While my cousins continued to play Marco Polo and swim race and jump off the diving board, I asked my mom as sweetly as I could, may I please please please walk around the deep-end edge by myself? She frowned, and I went into high-convince mode, that I would be so so careful and hold on and such. She frowned again.

“Pleeeeeease?” I smiled the prettiest gosh-mom-I-love-you-so-much smile I had, the one that seemed to bring a later bedtime, ice cream, and an extra half-hour of TV. Her frown relaxed a bit.

“OK, but you must hold tightly onto the edge the whole time, do you understand?”

Oh, of course, yes yes yes! I shot up and ran over to the deep-end, and slowly turned and lowered myself into the pool until my little toes just felt the smooth ledge below. Ah. I smiled again to myself in triumph. Hey Everyone, I thought to myself, look at me in the DEEP END! HA! So I made my way, very very carefully from the right side of the pool to the far end with the diving board where I would have to go under and duck my head to the left side of the pool, then reverse and do it all again. My mother stood at the side and watched me for awhile, then went and sat down about 20 feet away in a lounge chair, chatting with her sister and drinking a bottle of Coca-Cola. My cousins kept on with their games, not paying any attention to my momentous pool trek.

But after a few more slow journeys around the half-rectangle, I got bored. I turned my head to watch my cousins play, clinging to the concrete, still frustrated. I could do what they were doing, I bet. It doesn’t look that hard. My eyes just hovering over the edge of the pool, I glanced over to my mom. She wasn’t even looking at me, just yabbering away with my aunt.

I bet I could let go and balance. I bet I could. I’m no baby.

I let go. I felt the waves in the water push on my legs and I quickly grabbed back onto the lip. But I smiled an evil grin. HA. I let go again, longer this time, balancing. I did it again and again, still stealing glances up at my mom. She wasn’t looking. HA. I could LET GO, and I was FINE, SEE? This was fun!

I let go again, but this time my feet started to fall off the ledge. I tried to place them back on but it was too slippery. I went down, and my head went under the water. I remember looking up through the water, kicking and desperately trying to grab back onto the concrete, flailing, grasping on the gritty edge. But it was wet and I could not get hold of it, my fingertips just missing by surely what was less than an inch. I went down further, my arms still reaching up, now under the water as well. I held my breath, but my lungs were aching already.

I had three thoughts then: the water looks so pretty, like wavy glass; my mom doesn’t see me, and; I am going to die. I felt terrified and sad at the same time. I couldn’t keep holding it, so I let out my air and watched the bubbles float to the top, and I sunk to the bottom of the deep end of the pool.

Just as I felt my bottom hit the bottom, a pair of long arms scooped me up and with what seemed to be like the power of a missile fired from the depths of the ocean into the sky, brought me to the surface. It was my cousin Mark, and he was very angry with me. I coughed out the water and breathed the air again, amazed and grateful that someone saved me, because in that pool full of people and all the people around me, no one had seen it happen and I knew it.

Mark started yelling at me, everyone rushed over, and I started crying. My mother wrapped me in a big towel, and did not yell at me. She just looked pale and sick. My grandpa yelled at everyone, told them all to leave the pool for awhile, and we re-grouped in his house. All the kids sat there on the floor of his living room, with wet hair and huddling in bright beach towels, watching cartoons and sucking on cherry-red popsicles. After a couple of Bugs Bunny showdowns Mark came over and said he was sorry for yelling at me. I smiled, a much smaller and more genuine smile than I had used previously in the day, and I thanked him for helping me.

He rolled his eyes and said, “Stay out of the deep end. You can’t swim, you know.”