As a twenty-year-old University student, I became part of a great study group. We were all serious about our grades and had the same basic career goal… medicine. There were many of us; however, this story mainly concerns Brad Willows, Lee Hanson, and me.
Brad could only be described as a unique individual. He told us that he had been born with a growth problem. This explained his disproportional look. He did not stand over four feet tall. His head looked as if it were too big for his body, but his green eyes held so much. Brad was a true gem. He had a magnificent personality, always happy and avid about all events around him. He made excellent grades and cared about his fellow students.
When I first met Lee, we became fast friends. She seemed to tower above me at five feet, nine inches. My height only extends to five feet, five inches. She had long, dark brown hair and loving brown eyes. Her outgoing personality made her extremely friendly. She talked to anyone and everyone, and was always willing to help out either personally or academically. Being 24 years old, married, in school and raising two sons, kept her busy. Eli, her oldest at four years old, had brown hair and eyes like his mother. On the other hand, Gabriel, her youngest at three, had blond hair and sparkling green eyes.
Being an only child myself, I never seemed to have any tolerance for young children. I thought that I didn’t have the patience to deal with kids, but Eli and Gabriel changed my mind. They were great kids: very intelligent, well-mannered and happy. They respected their elders, and I actually enjoyed being around them. They were fun and had a warm, loving sense about them. They were always with Lee when we studied. They never disturbed us, just played and entertained themselves.
My story starts one day early in May. The phone rings, I pick it up.
“Hello?” I say.
“Hey! How does your day look?”
“Just studying for chemistry, you?”
“Eli and Gabriel asked me if they could go fishing today. I thought it sounded like a great idea and lots of fun. You in?” she asks.
“Sounds better than chemistry! I’m on my way.”
Even though the temperature outside wasn’t really warm, springtime was falling upon us. The shining sun and the weather forecast promise a great day.
Half an hour later I arrive at Lee’s house ready to go. The boys are ecstatic. When I walk in they are running around getting things ready, laughing and asking question after question: “How many fish do you think we’ll catch? Which pole can I use? Are we packing enough food and Cokes?” They put on their swimming trunks underneath their sweat pants. “Just in case,” they say.
After we start loading the car, we hear another car pull into the driveway, slowly crunching the gravel. We turn to see Brad. He gets out of the car, comes over, and asks where we’re going. We inform him that we plan to go to the spillway and have an extra pole if he can join us. He says, “sounds fun. I’ll go.” We all pile into the car, back out of the driveway and head out for our fun-filled day.
On the way, we stop at a convenience store and buy a bag of ice. We pour the cold crystals into the cooler, covering the juicy ham and cheese sandwiches we just made, and the Cokes we are so looking forward to drinking. We pile back into the car and take off again. The boys are still filled with a growing sense of excitement. They cannot sit still and keep asking – it seems every other minute, “How much longer?” and “Are we there yet?”
We arrive at our destination half an hour later. Jumping out of the car, stretching, and with the excitement inherited from the boys, we unload the car. We look around the area for a good place to set up our base. We can’t find anything that looks promising, so we walk to the other side of the dam. As soon as we reach the other side, we knew that we found our spot. The spacious and beautiful valley calls out to us, with its rocks and trees everywhere. It looks like a postcard picture of fun. We seem to be the only souls here. We trudge our way across the dam and carefully skid our way down the steep, rocky hill. We put the cooler under a tree that looks as if it’s awaking up from its winter nap. The new green leaves and the smell of fresh oak make us smile even more. We grab our poles and skip to the water.
Everything seems so serene. The clear, sparkling water cascades off the dam, down into pools of water below. The water looks as if it is flowing to and from every direction. The sun shines down warmly upon us. The new, green grass and fresh flowers emerging all around us have that sweet, sappy smell of spring.
We sit down on the shore, put our feet in the water, and bait our hooks with those slimy little worms that are so popular with fish and young boys. Then we stand up, wade out into the water until we are about knee-deep, and begin to fish. It seems that every time we cast our lines into the water, we either catch a fish or at least get a nibble. Most of the fish we actually reel in are too small to keep, but the boys want them all to hang on their new stringer.
I stand in my spot and just relax. I look down at my watch and am surprised that an hour has gone by. I look around and see that our group has spread out into different directions. Eli has the stringer of small fish floating beside him right off the shore in front of the blanket. He keeps trying to get them to swim along beside him. Lee is relaxing on the blanket eating a sandwich, drinking a Coke and yells at the boys, “be careful”. Gabriel and Brad stand quite a ways upstream from me. Gabriel is holding on to Brad’s hand as they both fish into what looks like a deep and calm pool. I continue casting my pole into the same enormous pool that Gabriel and Brad are having so much luck in.
This peaceful day is exactly what we all need. I stand staring at the water, my mind resting and just breathe in the air. I listen to everyone laughing and enjoying themselves. My, what a serene day this has turned out to be. I close my eyes and smile until Brad starts to scream. My eyes pop open and my head snaps over to his position.
“Gabriel fell in the water! He’s under the water!” Brad belts out. I see Brad’s horror stricken face, but cannot see Gabriel anywhere.
I yell back at Brad, “Jump in the water and grab him!” As Brad turns his shocked face from the water, I sense a problem. “I can’t swim!” He screeches with horror in his voice. He then begins to mumble something else.
Before he finishes his sentence, I run into the water and scream, “Grab Eli!” Hoping that Gabriel will come downstream, I dive into the long pool. I come up gasping for breath and turn around to see that Gabriel has almost reached me. He still has not come above the water, but I can see his yellow shirt under there. I grab hold of his arm as he comes flailing by me. At the same time, Lee, who must have run from the shore and jumped in, grabs his other arm. We try to pull him up, but we can’t. No matter how much we splash and pull, we don’t seem to get any closer to shore or get him above the water. I can feel the pressure of the water all around us. The cold force of the current is paralyzing. I keep wondering why we can’t move and why Gabriel won’t coming out of the water. Then I realize that this isn’t just a pool of water, but a whirlpool. We are caught up in it and it doesn’t seem to want to let any of us out.
Gabriel continues struggling, trying to pull himself above the water line with the help of our arms. We all go under, around and back up again, except for Gabriel, who for some reason cannot get his head out of the water. It seems like we are frozen in that spot. I can’t think.
All of a sudden, Gabriel quits struggling and goes limp down in the water. His body feels as if it is falling. Lee screams his name with such a piercing force that I feel it in the marrow of my bones. I experience a chill that makes me colder than I ever thought I could be.
That scream brings me back to my senses and feels like a slap across my face. We need to get out fast or Gabriel won’t have a chance. I look and I realize that not only are we fighting the whirlpool, but fighting the current as well. Quickly, I turn and see that not far downstream, the shore extends out like a peninsula. We might have a chance. I yell at Lee, “behind us!” We paddle with all our might, pulling Gabriel’s limp, submerged body behind us. Finally, I feel the pressure of the water dissipate and release us. I struggle onto the cold, red, slick, muddy shore, clawing my way to a gnarled, exposed root that seems to be protruding out to me like a helping hand. I grab the root and pull myself out of the water, yanking Gabriel out at the same time. When he finally comes out from under the water, I hear a loud pop. It sounds as if he had been vacuum-packed in there, then let out. Lee claws her way out immediately after that. Hysterical could not begin to describe her state of mind.
Gabriel’s lips are as blue as a two-day-old bruise and his clammy skin makes him look dead. We drag him up onto the shore and lay him flat on his back. Lee begins screaming his name and shaking his shoulders. I immediately grab under his neck and arch it back. Then I pinch his nose and open his mouth with my other hand. I put my mouth down over his and blow air into his lungs with all of the strength that I have left. This jolts Lee out of her hysteria, because right after I blow, she cups her palms over one another and pumps his little sternum five times. We repeat this process in silence three times before Gabriel spits up what looks like a gallon of water. Relieved that he starts gagging and coughing, we roll him to his side. However, he doesn’t open his eyes, seem to respond or get any color back, which worries us. A lot.
I scream to Brad, “grab Eli and let’s get to the car.” Lee and I scoop up Gabriel and trek our way back up the steep hill, across the dam and back to the car. Gabriel’s lips still have a bluish tint and he’s shaking. Lee yells ahead to Brad to get the blanket out of the trunk. As we make it to the car, Lee grabs the blanket, wraps it around Gabriel, and they jump in the back seat with Eli. I tell Brad to get in and drive. “I can’t drive a standard!” he wails with defeat in his voice this time.
“Fine then,” I said, “I’ll drive. Get in. Let’s go!” I run around to the other side of the car. As we take off, Lee starts rubbing Gabriel to warm him up and talks to him trying to get some response. Eli joins in with his mother, asking his brother to wake up.
Even driving through traffic like I was playing a video game, it took forever to arrive at the hospital. Pulling up in the cul-de-sac of the Emergency Room doors, I turn the engine off as I bring the car to a stop. I throw open the car door and jump out as Lee emerges from the back seat in a sprint. I scoop up Eli and we run into the emergency room.
Lee and I both stand there outside the locked doors dripping mud all over the floor as it falls off our drenched bodies. Everyone waiting immediately steps aside as nurses and doctors come running over. They yell instructions to each other as a nurse grabs Gabriel, lays him on a stretcher and wheels him off. Lee follows them, and they all disappear through the doors.
I remain in the waiting room. A nurse brings me a blanket and a few towels so I can dry off and warm up. Even though I feel dread, hope and fear all at once I put on a smile for Eli. He may be young, but he knows something bad is going on. Finally, he calms down enough to sit back and relax a little.
About an hour later, Lee comes out and says, “Gabriel is going to be fine! His blood test came back normal. He was just in shock.” I take a deep breath, close my eyes and let the good news sink in.
Lee sighs and hugs me. Then with tears in her eyes says, “Do you realize that we all could have died?” I close my eyes again, jolted by the thought and say, “No, I guess that never occurred to me!” It never occurred to me to let go of Gabriel’s arm.
Now that I sit back and can remember the whole event in a calm manner, I realize that the thought of my own safety never entered my mind. I just jumped into the situation without thinking. Just as in life, events take control of us and we’re caught up in them. The whirlpool of water could have changed all our lives forever. The many whirlpools of events and emotions in life shape and change us continually. We can’t escape from them. We escaped from the whirlpool of water after much struggle. We can only escape from the whirlpool of life after much struggle, and then only when that whirlpool releases us.