Little Friends and Swimming Pools
I was one and he was three. He was five and I was three. His name is Lynn although I call him Lynnie. Our mothers were best friends since childhood. My mother introduced Aggie to her future husband at a dance hall in Scheveningen, Holland.He was a Canadian soldier who stole his bride away to live in a faraway cold, vast country. My mother met a man too. A more dangerous kind of man though. They say the devil has blue eyes. And then my father moved his family to Canada as well to build new lives And so ended the days of Aggie and Rose singing together, rollerskating arm and arm through the streets of Den Hague. No more flirting with soldiers or riding bikes in the country side looking for rabbits to eat. A new era began in the new country.
In the new country our mothers remained close for a long time. Our families prospered and summers were spent playing in each other’s swimming pools. Pool parties, diving from balconies, cannon balls.Playing in the shed and then back out screaming as we ran under hot, bright, summer skies diving into the crisp cool water of the swimming pool.
I was three and Lynn was five. I remember being swept up into his mother’s arms and then carefully put down by the steps of the pool. My little hand in hers, holding it as tightly as I could as we slowly descended the watery steps. It felt so much less dangerous than with either of my parents.
And then later when we moved to the bigger house with the even bigger swimming pool Lynnie and I and our brothers and sisters took swimming lessons together. The worst of it was when we practiced rescue techniques.We were to jump into the pool with all our clothes and sneakers on.I reluctantly tied the laces to my white canvas shoes agonizing that I would have to get them wet and when I finally finished lacing them I stood up and (bitterly) leapt in. I could feel myself sink to the bottom of the pool looking up at the summer sky twisting away from me as I sank further and further.
It was my first experience with the notion that I might die. Much like the time I would have soon after when I put each one of my seven year old legs inside the arms of my life jacket and climbed on to my father’s back as he lounged at the side of the pool talking to friends. And suddenly he flipped me up and backwards so I hung suspended upside down in the water each leg still stuck in the life jacket. The devil, my father, was not the saving kind of guy. But Lynnie was. He dove in and dragged me upward toward the hot, humid, thick Ontario summer air. “You okay? he asked. “Yes”, I gasped. He was nine and I was seven.
When we played I was always the princess. Long blond hair, a wardrobe of beautiful clothes, gowns, fancy pant suits, party dresses. Practical stuff. I had a big pink car that I cherished which my Barbie drove around in. She would drive in circles navigating her way between roadways of my clothes and toys and imaginary parking lots. Sometimes I would let my boyfriend drive in the car beside me. GI Joe. But only sometimes.I was a princess after all and if I didn’t get my way Lynnie’s GI Joe would be walking, or sleeping on the park bench and was generally the brunt of my seven year old sense of righteousness and justice. Lynnie was good natured so he let me get away with everything. And he was my best friend.
And then the devil got himself into trouble and in the dark of night we moved to Europe and years later when we returned the magic between our families had been broken. Houses with swimming pools were under court lockdown and our summers of carefree fun were broken. Afterwards, our mothers only saw each other occasionally and then not at all until many years later. The devil when he could, stole everything.
I saw Lynnie for the last time when I was fourteen or fifteen. The seal of our summery childhoods had been broken as our families and our friendship drifted apart. Years later I saw him at a party. I was there with my brothers and sisters and he was there with his wife and small children. “Lynnie” I said. He nodded awkwardly. Then even more years later when our mothers dared be friends again I saw him with his three children at his mother’s house – the other half of the house of summer fun.
Everything in the house was exactly as I remembered it. When I wandered upstairs to look around I heard my mother and her friend Aggi, laughing and singing songs. Lynnie and I chatted and I was surprised at the ease with which we were able to talk about this and that. It was smooth. And comfortable. And I wandered around outside to the pool we used to play in. And we laughed and talked about how he fished me out of the pool that summer long ago when I wore little white canvas sneakers with blue trim — that summer when I believed I would drown – twice. When I believed my father would kill me. When I learned he would leave me to drown just a little bit longer than needed because he was showing off.
Lynnie left a message recently. “I’m in Vancouver.” it said. “And who do I know in Vancouver? I know Tessa. That’s who I want to see. ” So he came for dinner. And I was so excited. And I worried about everything.. What are we going to eat? What are we going to do? And I worried that grief would show up as an unwanted guest for dinner. Because that happens sometimes. And not just grief for my mother and his mother but grief for times gone by. Those summer days playing in the pool. Those days before I worried about losing people and sunscreen and flossing my teeth, the days before I knew who that blue eyed devil really was. I know so many more things now. And I haven’t been home since she died. And he was coming on the day that Reuben left us. And I said to Dave what happens if I see Lynnie and all I can do is cry. And he said, don’t worry about it. Lynnie will get it. And Lynnie came and grief didn’t show up. We talked and laughed like old, good friends and for a few hours we allowed ourselves the luxury of visiting those warm, summery childhood days.