Lounging on the shore sat his uncle Robert, bird chest mounted steadfastly above his rounded waist. It was the summer Max died, and no one noticed his death, except his uncle. Max was only twelve years old when he drowned in Black’s Creek. Robert lived alone in his mobile home, smoking his hand carved Meerschaum pipe he had carved it into a naked woman with a pocket knife.
Max went fearlessly into the creek, without hesitation. He soaked up the coolness of it by sitting down on the muddy bottom in his cutoff jeans shorts. His bare chest, sunburnt from a hot summer filled with shirtless chest activities, jutted out like a reddish stump with a curly locked head on top. The day before they had been to Destin to fish off of the bridge in the salt water, with no luck catching any that day, just a good time spent quietly with his white-fringe headed uncle in his 60’s, puffing on his meerschaum. No breeze disturbed the creek's surface. Robert sat in his long pants, and undershirt with the slip-on shoes, reading a book while Max played around in the water.
“Hey, Uncle Robert, come on in. It feels great”
“Nope, that’s ok. I believe I’ll just let you have all the fun this time.”
“Ah, come on, it’s nice and cool.”
"Not this time, now you just go ahead and swim all you want. I’ m going to just read awhile.” His meerschaum puffed out the words like a locomotive in an old movie, so that the words were just barely legible.
Max kept backing a little further from the shore so he could get deeper without having to crouch so low, feeling the coolness rise up his chest. Then, he slipped in the mud and dropped ten feet down the decline of the boat ramp. He clawed his way down like a cat frantically clawing its way up the inside of a metal garbage can, until he stood on the dark, murky, and silent creek bed. He never had natural buoyancy; his dad told him that to swim he would have to stand on the bottom and run, just like him. His mom had given him more practical advice though. She told him that if he were ever drowning, you do just like her brother Robert had told her when he was training for the Olympics. Go all the way to the bottom (that part seemed to be no problem), crouch down and turn your body into a tightly wound spring. Push off and jet to the surface, exhaling as you go, and when your head breaks through the surface of water take a gulp of air. He lunged for the surface, exhaling all the way up and when he penetrated the top of the water his body shot out like a cannon ball as far as his waist. He took a gulp of air, yelled: “help,” toward his uncle lounging on the bank and the crouching man he was talking to.
Back to the bottom he dropped like a concrete piling into the darkness-the quiet. Max held his breath as long as he could and repeated the whole set of movements to jut his head out of water for another breath of air and another yell of “help!” He fell back to the muddy bottom. Over and over he repeated these steps, and his Uncle Robert never responded to his pleas for salvation. After countless attempts, Max finally sat down on the bottom and crossed his legs. He held the precious air that oxygenated his blood to keep him alive until the diaphragmatic response finally expelled the air from his lungs and he took his first breath of water. A few coughs followed and then he finally just took the water in as a breath of air and became at one with the water; it filled his lungs and he slowly drifted away from consciousness, away from reality. His head fell forward as his body curled into a ball and died.
His eyes hovered right at the surface of the still water, that had calmed from the flailing and shouting of the child, now silenced. He watched serenely, as his uncle looked up from his conversation, and his body went as rigid as a fainting goat having a spell.
“Oh, my God!” He shouted. “That kid’s not playing; he’s really drowning!.” Max’s Uncle Robert, and the man he was with both took to their feet. Robert sprung to the form of his former Olympian, ripping the shirt form his torso and pulling his shoes off, taking a huge lungful of air while running into the water and off the deep cliff, diving in. Max watched him go down as he stood next to the man on the pier that had his arm around him. He came up for another gigantic lung full of air, and submarined to the bottom again. Over and over, he dove, praying and crying the whole time.
Carefully choosing his timing, Max said: “I’m right here.” Robert dove right in and found the lifeless body of Max and wrapped his arm around his waist. He pushed off from the muddy bottom and out of the murk towing the child to the shore, while gasping for air. Max stood next to the stranger and watching his uncle turn his still head to the side, and begin pumping the water out of his lungs, before inflating them with his deep breaths of air exhaling the life back in.
Max looked up at the messenger, and asked: “Can I go?”
He looked down at the child with a soft yet strong smile and gently pushed him in the direction of his body. Max coughed and looked up at his uncle. He sat up and his uncle collapsed, begging the sky for air, with his deep inhalations. He looked back to where the Angel was, and saw no one. That was the day that Max lived again.
Thank you Max, for sharing your Story with us.
Our Stories and pictures are the sole copyright of their Authors and may not be reprinted or used without their permission.
© 2008 by Jason Bradford and Story of My Life®