Today I came home, from Orlando… where I had traveled to receive an award I do not deserve. Awards embarrass me, especially since drowning remains such a prevalent problem in our country. And, you know? I’m in the drowning prevention business. With every story of a new drowning, it’s hard not to feel like I’m failing. Because, honestly, I AM failing. We all are.
But we are all trying – and trying hard. Unbeknownst to me, the kind, beautiful, people from my hometown nominated me for a national water safety award, and the association which has offered this award for the past several years was generous enough to recognize me as the recipient. I was truly touched. And honored.
Today, for a brief moment, the trying mattered.
But oh, Orlando. Orlando. Or.lan.do. Disney World. The Magic Kingdom. The last time I was here was circa 2004-ish, when my boys were very young. I had taken the family with me on a work trip, as business travelers so often do. I can see Connor and Riley spinning in the teacup, heads thrown back, laughing hysterically. I can see the red popsicle juice dripping down Connor’s chin. I can see the boys stare wide-eyed in wonder not just at the incredible sights of Disney, but the simple things, too… like the airport tram which would take us from the gate to baggage claim. It was all a wonder then. Such a wonder. So magical. And today… I was back. Back in Orlando.
I wept silently in the back seat as my driver crossed the entry into Disney World where we stopped and got our family picture all those years ago. I was crossing into the magic kingdom again, but this time, for a much different reason. And this time, without the magic. And the irony. Oh the irony. On that visit all those years ago, we stayed at a resort with one of those huge pools that had a long winding slide which the boys went down like – oh – one million times. I can still see them sliding down that slide, over and over, with their ear-to-ear smiles. At one point, as I stood watching them, Connor did the familiar entry splash … but a few seconds later, something seemed wrong. Like he may (may?) be in trouble. He wasn’t splashing or yelling or playing. He was just sort of still. Lethargic almost. He was probably tired… exhausted really. And to me, it looked like he just didn’t have the energy to swim to the side this time. It happened in seconds. I watched his head gradually tilt back as he ever-so-slowly started sinking. Not all the way under, but too close for comfort for this momma. I immediately jumped in. Business suit, cell phone and all, and pulled my boy from the water. He insisted he was okay – and maybe he was. But all I know is, I was not interested in taking any chances. The whole thing lasted maybe 10 seconds tops, but I’ve never forgotten it.
Oh, Orlando. It all came back today.
And suddenly Connor is 15. At that lake. On that day. Where was I on August 31, 2012? Who would save him when he was in trouble on that day? Who would see him go under? Who would rescue him from the water? Who would give him air when he could get none?
Not me. Not anyone. Not ever.
Sometimes the grief triggers hit with a light thump. And sometimes with blunt force. It’s a blunt force day. I’m his mother. And I couldn’t save him. And now, I find the only magic I want is the kind that will stop these remarkably preventable deaths from happening and end this heartbreak forever. In the meantime, I’ll keep working — arm in arm with so many other heartbroken parents — to create that magic wand. Then, and only then, will I truly win. We all will.
— Dana Gage, Connor’s Mom + Founder, The LV Project