At age five, Amy told her mother that the thought of swimming scared her. Not surprisingly, her mother poo-pooed the idea, and said that fear showed weakness and stupidity. From then on, Amy said she hated swimming and never admitted any fear to her mother again. I don’t just hate swimming, I hate you! Amy’s mother never hugged her, gave her encouragement or praise, or told Amy she loved her. Sometimes she smacked her around. Someday I’ll grow up and get away from you!
Amy attended a few of her swimming lessons, but most of the time she thought of a seemingly reasonable excuse to stay home. If her mother still forced her to go, Amy told the instructor that she was just supposed to watch this week. The instructor never bothered to check her story.
At eighteen, a brunette, green-eyed beauty Amy met handsome, blond, blue-eyed, nineteen-year- old Ian. They immediately connected. Amy felt attracted to Ian from the first time she met him. She tried to make sure he would like her too. Yes, she loved football. She mentally stuck her finger in her throat. Yes, she loved the beach and swimming — lie. Yes, she loved Thai food — lie. Amy ‘loved’ pretty much everything that Ian did.
Ian’s family owned a little cabin at a quiet lake. Ian loved going there, so it became Amy’s favorite too. Not entirely a lie this time, as she enjoyed the cabin, sunbathing and lounging in a beach chair reading, digging her toes into the warm sand. She also liked splashing around in the shallow water. The little cabin sat at the top of the beach, just minutes from the shore. Few people came to that part of the lake. The privacy suited the young couple.
Amy and Ian enjoyed a sweet, passionate romance. Ian expressed his love for her often. It felt amazing to be loved and appreciated. Within a year they got engaged. Two years later they married. Her mother refused to attend the ceremony.
They visited the cabin often. Amy didn’t go into the lake deeper than her knees. I need to tell him the truth. She tried several times, but her embarrassment and shame stopped her. He’ll know I’ve been lying all along. He’ll also know I am afraid of water. “Fear is a sign of weakness and stupidity”, her mother had said. Amy created a list of excuses to not swim: That time of the month, headache, wanted to sunbathe, felt sick, and on and on.
By the end of their first year of marriage, Amy and Ian decided to start a family. Months went by, however, without a pregnancy. Tests revealed fertility issues. They tried in vitro fertilization, with its daily shots, Amy’s emotional roller coaster from the hormones, and Ian’s stress from dealing with Amy’s volatility. Their hopes lifted then quickly plunged when the in vitro didn’t work. They tried again, unsuccessfully.
The third time they tried the news was good! The doctor confirmed Amy’s pregnancy. They waited impatiently for the nine months to pass. When the time came, the birth had been lengthy and painful. Ian stayed by Amy’s side. “I love you, my darling. I know this is hard, but soon our son will be here.” It wasn’t soon, but eventually Nathan Bryan entered the world, the most beautiful baby boy they’d ever seen.
Nathan couldn’t have been an easier baby. He rarely cried, learned to smile and laugh early, and loved cuddling. They knew Nathan would likely be their only child, but with his cheerful, loving nature, he more than fulfilled their parenting dreams.
As Nathan grew from a tiny baby to a chubby toddler, their trips to the cabin resumed. Nathan loved splashing in the water, digging his little fingers deep in the soft bottom. He’d giggle and clap his wet hands together. Amy sat in the shallow water with him, laughing at his antics.
When Nathan turned three, he took his first set of swimming lessons. Ian encouraged Amy to attend the classes. “It’s mostly moms there. You’d have fun.”
“Come swim, Mama,” Nathan added.
Amy made an excuse. She saw the flash of disappointment on Ian’s face, and looked away. I should tell him now, get it over with. She couldn’t bring herself to confess.
By four, Nathan had learned to float on his back and dog paddle. He’d become a water baby and loved spending time in the lake.
Ian finally voiced his frustration, “Why won’t you go swimming with me? When we first met you said you loved to swim.”
Here is the perfect opportunity to come clean. After a long moment, she replied, “I did. I’m sorry, love, I guess things change.” Fortunately, Ian let it pass.
One warm June afternoon, Amy relaxed at the beach in a lounge chair, reading a mystery novel. Ian played in the water with Nathan. “Deeper, Daddy, deeper!”
“Come out, Nate. I need to talk to mommy.” Ian and Nathan held hands, swinging their arms as they approached her chair.
“Honey, I have an awful headache. I need to lie down. Will you keep an eye on Nate? He wants to go in deeper now so you’ll need to watch him carefully.”
Amy hesitated. What if something goes wrong? “I think you should stay with Nathan, or we should all go to the cabin.”
“No!” Nathan stated. “I wanna swim!”
“Come on, Amy. I need to lie down.”
Tell him now! “Okay, love, I’ll watch him.” Ian left for the cabin.
“Let’s go swim mommy,” Nathan pulled at her hand.
Amy followed him into the water. “Please stay in the shallow water, okay? Mommy can’t swim today.”
Nathan pouted for a moment, then he skipped around in the water, splashing and giggling. I’ll keep a good eye on him, and everything will be fine. They played for a long time. Amy didn’t notice the weather change until rain splattered them. She realized that the wind had picked up. The waves had grown angry, crashing onto the shore. “Come on Nate honey. We have to go in.”
Nathan scowled, “No! I want to go deeper.” Amy reached to grab hold of him, but his wet hand slipped through hers. He rebelliously lunged deeper and a strong wave pushed him out even further. The rough waves tossed him as he struggled to tread water. “Mommy help me!”
“I’ll get Daddy!” Amy made it to the cabin in less than three minutes. She shook Ian awake. “Come with me. Nathan’s in too deep.”
“Why didn’t you swim out to get him?”
“Just come!” She shrieked, sprinting toward the beach, Ian at her heels. Please, please, let Nathan be okay.
“Where is he?” She pointed towards her last sighting of him and Ian dove into the waves. Please, God, let Ian find Nathan, and bring them both back to me safely.
Amy sprinted to the nearby payphone and called the police, then hurried back to the beach. Ian eventually reappeared —alone, exhausted, and shaking. Within minutes of his return, rescue boats were on the stormy lake searching for Nathan. Amy and Ian sank to their knees on the sand, crying in each other’s arms.
Fishermen found Nathan’s four-year-old body two days later. After he died, everything became a blur. The tears, the people, the funeral, the heart-crushing little-boy casket.
Nathan’s final words ran through Amy’s mind in an endless loop, “Mommy help me!” She didn’t tell Ian about it.
Days became weeks and weeks became months. Ian and Amy began to pick up the remnants of their lives and move forward. They were sad, lost without Nathan’s cheerful presence, but at least they had each other.
Then, one rainy day, Ian finally asked the inevitable question. “Honey, why didn’t you try to save Nathan?”
Amy sighed, her eyes stinging with tears. It’s time. Ian deserves to know. “The truth is, dear, I almost drowned as a child, and ever since I’ve been afraid so I never learned to swim. I said I loved swimming when we were dating so you’d like me. The longer I waited to tell you the truth, the harder it got to admit. Then it was too late.”
“Too late?” Ian’s voice boomed. Amy flinched. “No! Any moment until Nathan drowned wouldn’t have been too late.” Tears streaked down his cheeks. “Now it’s too late, Amy, now! You knew you couldn’t swim. Why did you agree to watch him?”
“I thought it would be fine, but then the weather suddenly changed and the waves pushed him too far out. I am so, so sorry.”
“With everything we went through to finally conceive Nathan – the only child we can ever have — your lie cost our beautiful little boy his precious life!”
“You’re hurting and furious, Ian, and I don’t blame you, but this is also my loss. I loved Nathan too.” She sobbed, “I don’t know how to go on without him.”
Ian glared at her. “Then maybe you shouldn’t!” He responded to the stricken look on Amy’s face and immediately recanted. “I didn’t mean that.”
He looked sombrely at her. “I do blame you. Your lies. You had endless opportunities to tell me the truth, but rather than facing reality you chose to lie. What else is a lie? Is our whole relationship a lie?”
“No. But I’ve told other lies — too many to count or even remember. Most were harmless. It’s a horrible habit, I know. Early on I learned from my mother that fear equals weakness, so I couldn’t be truthful without being weak. I thought you wouldn’t love me if you saw my weaknesses. My love for you and Nathan was never a lie.”
“I appreciate your explanation, if it’s true.” He shook his head, “I can’t even think right now. I’m going to call my brother Cameron to see if I can stay with him.”
“You’re leaving?” Amy’s voice trembled.
“For a few days. I thought we were beginning to heal from Nathan’s death. Now I don’t know what I think or feel. I’ll keep in touch with you.” He hugged her, then left.
Amy remained isolated in the house with the drapes drawn for three days. She spent much of her time in Nathan’s room, sitting on his little bed, her arms wrapped around her body, rocking for hours. The tape continued relentlessly: “Mommy help me! Mommy help me!” A river of tears fell as she whispered “I’m so sorry baby,” over and over in response.
Her phone rang several times. Twice someone came to the door. She heard the ping of messages on her tablet. She didn’t respond.
On the third day, she listened to her phone messages and the messages and emails on her tablet. There were several from concerned friends and two from Ian. Her mother left one telephone message: “You let Nathan drown. You killed my Grandson! Everyone will know how worthless you are, I’ll make sure of it.” Amy’s body shook after she heard the message. On impulse, she phoned Ian.
“Amy! I’ve been so worried about you.”
“Could you come over for a while?”
“Of course,” Amy heard the kindness in his voice, and it made her want to cry again. “I’ll be there in about twenty minutes.”
When Ian arrived his face looked haggard and thin. They hugged for a long time, then sat silently on the couch.
Finally Amy spoke. “My mother left me a phone message. I don’t know how she found out. She said she will make sure everyone knows about Nathan and how worthless I am.” Amy looked at Ian, tears brimming in her eyes, her voice flat. “She’ll tell everyone. My family, my friends. How can I face them?”
“Honey, this is a tangled mess right now, but things will improve. You may lose some people over this, but the ones who truly love you will stand by you. We know you loved Nathan. Give it time.”
“I appreciate your kindness and support, but I don’t think I can handle it.”
“Amy, I know this whole situation is awful, but please don’t do anything rash.”
“Like killing myself? You said I should.”
He pulled her into his arms, hugging her tightly. “I said that in a moment of pain. I didn’t mean it. Please honey, promise me you won’t hurt yourself. We’ll get through this.”
Amy took his hands in hers. “I promise.” She smiled, “Enough of this talk. I’ll make coffee.”
Later, when Ian left to go back to his brother’s house, Amy considered her options. When she finally figured it out, she felt relieved and slept soundly.
The next morning Amy drove down the scenic road to the cabin. She walked to the beach, shivering in the October cold. The weather reminded her of the night Nathan died – rolling waves pounding against the shore.
It felt odd wading into the frigid water with her shoes on and fully clothed. Her body began trembling. Amy halted when the water reached her knees. Much further in and I won’t be able to save myself, just like I couldn’t save Nathan. She’d promised Ian she wouldn’t commit suicide, but he didn’t understand. I need to be with Nathan. Besides, Ian knows I lie, so why would he believe my promise?
Amy pushed into the deeper water, feeling panic, but also a sense of peace she hadn’t felt since Nathan died. Here I am, lake. I’m not afraid of you anymore! She took her last breath, then breathed out, out, out. Cold waves washed over her, filling her lungs. It felt painful, freezing, scary and freeing. As her body unsuccessfully tried to save itself, she heard, “Mommy help me!”
Mommy’s coming Nathan. I’m coming!
Author Bio: Leslie lives in Saskatchewan, Canada. She has wanted to be a writer since she learned to read and write. During her earlier years, she focussed on poetry. Now her interest is primarily in fiction. Leslie has edited several newsletters as well as writing articles to contribute to them. She is currently working towards her Creative Writing Certificate.