When I was 6 years old, I watched my three younger brothers play in the lake by myself. My dad told my mother not to worry because if anything happened surely I would scream for help. They were inside the cabin not too far away. I’m not sure how long I was left alone. It could’ve been two minutes, it could’ve been twenty. But I don’t remember that.
My youngest brother just turned two. He went deeper into the water until it was almost over his head. He started to choke and flail about while my 3 year old brother thought he was swimming. My brother Matt who was 5 is autistic and he was oblivious to the whole situation. I really was left alone to deal with something I was too young to handle.
I was so afraid that my body froze. I couldn’t even scream for help.
The memory is always the same. I almost watched my brother drown and did nothing to save him. If my mother hadn’t checked on us, he could’ve died.
My husband asked me if I ever thought I could’ve died that day. He asked what would’ve happened if I jumped in to save him when he started to struggle. Maybe he would’ve pulled me under. We could have all drowned.
I never considered that before.
I think a part of me died that warm day in May. If you could imagine a 6 year old watching her three younger brothers in the water with no one else around. Debatably if I had any childhood up to that point, it was gone on that day. Who even knows what other responsibilities I had on days disaster didn’t strike.
I never was a carefree child. It seems like I was a careworn old woman all my life. I missed the time of magic and wonder. My imagination didn’t wander. Maybe that’s when my life started to be ruled by logic and structure. One part of my brain overdeveloped while the other part didn’t develop much at all.
I became this way before my brain developed enough to give me adult reasoning. I became advanced in rules, structure, routines, and control. If I couldn’t control my circumstances, I could have super human control over myself. Or I could feel like I had some control over things that no one cared about controlling.
As I grew older, I noticed there was a chasm dark deep and empty. There was a void inside of me bigger than a black hole. I longed to be someone I wasn’t. I wanted to be spontaneous and carefree. But would I have to exchange my hard earned grit for feelings and fluff? I couldn’t see two opposing traits rule inside of me at the same time without causing a war.
I mourned for the child I never got to be. I don’t think I was supposed to be the person I needed to be to survive. The seed was planted and the tree grew tall. It’s too late to cut it down and start all over again. The tree didn’t get watered enough but it got used to the soil it was in. I always wondered what the tree would’ve been like if it was nourished properly.
Maybe a part of me did die on that warm day in May. I feel like a part of me is missing. It was the part of me I wanted to be but never took root.
At this point, it is too late to chop down the tree. But I can prune away the old unhealthy branches to make room for new growth. That I still can do.