Becca arrives at the pool before noon. She is wearing a purse that is pink. Pink shorts. And running shoes.
Becca is 11, and she is blind. Her body is peppered with scars from past medical operations. Open heart surgery. Lymph node removal. You name it; Becca has undergone it.
The lady behind the pool check-in desk asks me to sign a waiver, assuming responsibility for this child. I hesitate. My wife and I are childless. The closest I will ever come to having a child is watching the CBS Peanuts Christmas episode.
So I sign my name. Becca is my friends’ youngest child. If anything happens to my friends’ child, it will be my everlasting aspirations on the line.
My wife takes Becca to the girl’s locker room and gets her changed into her suit. I wait in the hallway. This takes four or five presidential administrations.
When the females emerge, Becca holds my arm for guidance as we wander through the hallways. When we get to the water, Becca eases into the pool.
Once she is in the pool, she is no longer blind. I don’t know how to explain this, but it’s like Becca was born in chlorine.
And although I know this sounds crazy, sometimes when I look at Becca, I don’t see her at all. I see her mother. A mother who I assume Becca resembles.
I see Becca’s little profile, and I see a wayward young teenager so addicted to drugs that her child was born with a number of maladies. I wonder where that poor young woman is today. Or whether she is alive.
Meantime, Becca is playing in the water with my wife. They are splashing each other. They keep asking me to join them in the water, but I don’t do pools.
Namely, because I have a hairy back. It’s not pretty when I take my shirt off, so my policy is to never remove my clothing. The only person who will ever see my hairy back is the undertaker.
There is a middle-aged woman lingering near the edge of the pool. She wears a striped bathing suit. Her name is Tracy. She speaks with a very loud voice. I am not sure what is going on with Tracy, but I am told Tracy has special needs.
Tracy is fascinated by Becca because, although Becca is blind, she is fearless. Their conversation is childlike. At times, I am not sure who is older. Becca or Tracy.
Finally, Becca decides she wants to use the diving board.
“You can’t do that,” says Tracy. “That’s in the deep end.”
“I’m not scared of deep water,” says Becca.
“Don’t do it,” says Tracy.
This time Becca addresses me. “Take me to the diving board.”
And I’m suddenly thinking about how I signed my name to a dotted line. I’m thinking that, if anything happens to this precious child, I will (a) never forgive myself, and (b) I will be sharing a bunk with an inmate named “Snake.”
So we walk across the hot concrete to the diving board. Becca says she wants me to accompany her to the edge of the platform. So I do.
We tiptoe to the edge of the diving board. The lifeguards are looking at me like I am either crazy, or about to be making license plates at Draper.
Becca shuffles to the edge. She is clutching my hand for stability. My wife is treading water in the deep end, ready to intercept.
“I am going to let go of your hand,” Becca tells me, “and I am going to jump into the water.”
“Are you sure about this?” I say.
My wife counts to three. Becca jumps.
And in a flashing moment, I am now thinking about what it must be like to be a blind child. I’m thinking how she must feel, living in a world of blackness, plunging into deep water. I’m thinking about her bravery. I’m thinking about whether Snake will let me have the top bunk.
Becca makes a grand splash. And within a moment, Tracy is already getting out of the water, heading toward the diving board.
“Where are you going?” we all ask Tracy.
“If she can do it, so can I,” says Tracy.
Tracy climbs the diving board. And you can tell Tracy has difficulty walking. There must be something going on with her legs. She stands there at the edge.
Tracy closes her eyes momentarily. She gathers her courage. She plugs her nose. She jumps. Mid-air, she tucks her knees and performs a perfect cannonball.
When Tracy emerges from the water, she is overjoyed. “I did it, Becca!” Tracy shouts. “I did it!”
“You did it,” says Becca.
You can learn a lot from a blind child.