The way I see it, we’re in a rowboat. I’m facing Sarah, who’s rowing and avoiding my eyes. Behind her, Dad is reading yesterday’s newspaper. He holds the paper in front of his face so all I can see are his knees and his fingers clamped around the pages on either side.
A summer fog has settled on top of Jamaica Pond and we move through it toward the center. The trees are rounded and black and wall us in on every side. In my memory nothing exists except the fog, the trees, the occasional turn of a newspaper page, and the sound of Sarah’s paddles sliding in and out of the water. It’s five in the morning, and I’m eight years old.
“Here’s good,” Dad says from behind the paper, and Sarah stops rowing. The boat drifts for a moment until it’s still. Then Dad folds the paper, steps around Sarah, lifts me up, and drops me in the pond.
After that I see it from above. A girl thrashing in the water like a cat in the bath. Sarah, leaning over the side, looking between me and Dad and waiting for instruction on what to do. No matter what they later tell me, I’ll always imagine Dad returning to his seat at the end of the boat, unfolding the paper, and continuing whatever article he’s interrupted to toss me in.
I never sink. I stay right on the surface, slapping the water, spinning my limbs as fast and as hard as I can. But drowning has nothing to do with depth. You can drown in a bowl of cereal if there’s no one there to help you. I inhale one mouthful after another, slowly sucking up the contents of the pond. Maybe I’m thinking if I drink it all in, there won’t be anything left but dry land to stand on. It’s more likely I’m not thinking anything at all. As my lungs fill, my arms and legs slow. Soon a paddle comes down. I grab for it, slip off, grab again. I finally get my hands around it, and Sarah pulls me in and helps me up over the side of the boat. Dad points toward the shore and Sarah starts rowing.
“Well,” he says, and turns to me for the first time, “it worked for your sister.”