|The Connecticut River runs. dee|
Kelly arcs far out over the water, her hair flying behind her as the tire swing reaches the end of the rope and, after a trembling pause, glides back to shore. Kelly has been using this rope swing since she first learned to swim. In the beginning, Declan would hold her on his lap, securely between his arms. She would laugh and laugh at the feeling of flight and movement. When she began to get stronger as a swimmer, I would swim out in the river and we would let Kelly -- suited up in an inflatable life preserver, jump out of Declan’s arms to me in the river below. It took three tries before she would do it. Once she did it, it was all she wanted. We hung a rope swing at home. It took the better part of a Saturday morning to suspend the tire from the tallest tree behind the house. While Declan was working on that, I was raking leaves out of the garden. It must have been fall... We watched Kelly and Marshall playing on the swing then went inside. Not ten minutes later, Marshall came inside crying. I looked him over expecting an injury, but couldn’t find anything. It took a few minutes to realize that he wanted to take me to Kelly. It was Kelly, ashen white, who was hurt. Her lips were trembling and tears rimmed her eyes, but she refused to cry. She held her arm on a pillow in her lap all the way to the hospital. Kelly broke her arm when she launched from the swing into the large pile of maple leaves I left in the garden. She expected the leaves would break her fall as readily as the water had. I expected Kelly would show some reticence about taking another leap on land, but with snow came Kelly’s exploits. By the next summer, she was somersaulting backward off the river rope swing into the water below.
On this perfect early summer day, I call Kelly to come ashore, we need to get home. She yells out, “I love you, too, Mommy.”
Laughing, I say, “One more jump. That will make an even one hundred today.”
Her legs are outstretched, she pushes off the stones along the river bank.
“Okay, one more.”
I watch her face closely, she is intent and focused. I see her gauging distance and speed before she makes her leap. She pushes off backward, like she has done five hundred times before. Her body starts the tumble toward the river as the rope swing follows its arc, moving back to shore. However, something has gone wrong. Her foot is somehow snagged inside the tire and she is dangling upside down. I race toward the bank. I urge every part of my body to reach the collision point before she does. In the second just before the tire swing reaches shore, Kelly frees her foot and she tumbles with a scream that is cut short. The silence is far worse than the scream. I find her body, limp and unmoving on the rocks. The rope swing continues to make small oscillations, then stops. Blood is flowing out of Kelly’s head, staining the rock and turning the water red. The current races over the part of her that is submerged.
I know better than to move her, but I do, slightly. I do not want her carried away by the force of the current. I strip off my shirt and compress the head wound. I check for breathing, not seeing her chest move, I start CPR. While I breathe for her, I try to figure out how to get help. I don’t want to risk stopping the resuscitation, but I need to call 911. I check my watch. It has been four minutes. I have to call. I practice the motions before I do them. Take my sneakers off, stabilize her head with my sneakers. Race up the bank, grab my phone, race down to Kelly, breathe. After several breaths, push 911, send. Breathe. After several breaths for Kelly i must give our exact location, leave phone open. Continue breathing for Kelly until help comes. I can do this.
When it is all over, I will remember how beautiful her face was. I will remember how joyful she was when she was flying and try, try, try not to recall her face when she crashed.
I wake up. I have dreamed another version of Kelly’s dying. Declan is trying to tiptoe quietly through the hotel room. He gets undressed, leaving his clothes at the end of the bed. When he climbs into bed, I stretch out my arms to him. He kisses me and enfolds me in his embrace. I try to cry silently. He strokes my hair. This is a scene we have played hundreds of times. I had no idea my sorrow could run so deep or so infinite.
Slowly, my breathing calms. I hear Sarah, Justin and Marshall make their nighttime noises -- a hiccup, a little rattle, a wheeze every fourth breath. Declan’s grip on me relaxes and I feel him drift off. I lay still and wait for morning.