When I was seven years old, my father dragged me onto one of those swan pedal boats they used to have at the beach.
It was so hot the seatbelt buckle burned my fingers every time I touched it. Staring at the water, I wished I knew how to swim so I could jump right in.
While Dad was peddling, I sat back and watched the other people in their boats. He grinned the whole time, but I was bored and imagined all the boats colliding like bumper cars.
The whole time, he kept rambling on about swans, grinning at his own knowledge of such things. “Did you know swans remember every kind thing you do for them?” I didn’t care. Instead, I imagined treating the boats like bumper cars and colliding with the one carrying a girl with blonde pigtails.
Sweat stung my eyes. I tried to wipe it away, but the moisture coating my arms made it worse, so I cupped some water in my hand and threw it in my face. What a relief! I flung some more, but then Dad said, “Stop it!” So while he wasn’t looking, I unbuckled the seatbelt, straightened my knees just a little, leaned over the side of the boat, and stuck my whole forearm below the surface, the waves licking my elbow. The boat tilted a little, but I didn’t think much of it. I turned my body and put my other arm in it. Dad was still looking straight ahead. My knees were cramped, so I stretched them, tipping the boat even further.
“Hey! Dad shouted. “Get down from there.”
As I turned around, I lost my balance. I spun my arms in a pinwheel motion before tumbling into the water.
I screamed for help. While flailing my arms, I looked for Dad, but every time I felt myself sinking, I started waving my arms again. Water flew in bursts, impeding my view.
Something grabbed me just below the neck, holding me tight. At first, I threw my arms with greater intensity because I thought I got caught in something. When I felt my legs pushing against the water, I calmed down. Sunlight dappled the arm across my chest. Someone was bringing back me to shore.
After I arrived there, my rescuer’s head blocked the sun. “Are you OK?” A shadow veiled her face, so I couldn’t make it out, but I recognized the pigtails.
“Yeah, thank you,” I said, sitting up.
Dad ran over and hugged me. He thanked the girl and her mother, while a lifeguard wrapped me in a towel.
Once they knew I was safe, we went our separate ways. “You know, sport, it wasn’t that deep,” Dad said. “You wouldn’t have drowned. I think you were just scared.”
When we arrived home, Dad told Mom what happened.
“I’m glad you’re OK,” she said. “Who was the girl?”
Dad and I stared at each other. Neither one of us could remember.