Talk Her Down - Starsailor (mp3)
Everybody Out of the Water - The Wallflowers (mp3)
The following is a true story. There’s a lesson in here somewhere.
On an afternoon in late June, I receive a phone call from a friend’s wife. “Did a boy drown in your school’s lake?” she asks. We call it a lake. It’s not really a lake. It’s an over-large glorified round pool, the kind of overcompensation that makes masculinity and testosterone continue producing at the proper levels for future generations.
“Come again?” I say.
“Like, recently? Did a boy or some kid drown in your lake? Or something like that? I’m just calling you because you’d know if that was true, right?”
She isn’t completely panicked, but she’s definitely fighting fear of a possible truth.
“Um, no. No child or adult has died in or near our lake at any time that I can recall. Certainly not recently,” I say.
“Well that’s what I figured,” she says, clearly relieved. “But Mac got in the car today and told me this story, and I just had to call you to make sure.”
“What story was that?”
“Well, he said that at camp today -- he started robotics camp over there today -- one of the counselors was standing with them before they took their swim tests, and Mac said the counselor told them that the reason they have swim tests is because a boy drowned in the lake.”
My face scrunches up with a mix of disbelief and contemplation, but she can’t see that because I don’t have those new iPhones. “That’s weird,” I say. What I don’t say is that I have trouble accepting the veracity of this entire story. Their son is quite creative. Any part of it could have been generated from his noggin like Simon with his magic chalk.
This theory was encouraged when she went further with stories about shark teeth that had fallen off necklaces and gathered a magic life of their own, biting kids who went in the wrong areas of the pool. Having to convince another adult that shark teeth simply cannot bite without mandibles and muscles and the like often helps chart the appropriate absurdity to a conversation.
“Well, that’s all,” she says. But she’s clearly hanging on for something, some additional comfort or piece of information from me.
“Listen, I’ll ask around just to be sure, but trust me that it’s not true... about the drowning thing, not the shark teeth.”
The next morning, I’m sitting in my office, and my coworker comes in. His son is at a camp here, too, and he’s talking to me about his son swimming yesterday, which immediately gets me thinking about the phone call.
So I tell him my amusing Tale of the Frightened Mom and The Drowning Boy. And something not good happens. He stops me before I’m finished and says, “My son actually said something similar last week.”
“Come again?” I claim that’s what I say because it sounds a lot more professional and mature than “You’re shitting me.”
“He said one of the counselors told him that a kid had drowned in the lake. I just ignored it at the time, because I figured it was one of those spooky stories counselors tell kids to get them to obey rules.”
At this point, what was clearly a fluke, the product of one boy’s flighty imagination, mutated into something more disturbing. Two different campers. Two different camps. Likely two different counselors, both telling tales of children drowning to impressionable minds (and future admission prospects).
So I sent an email relaying precisely this to the head of our camps. Accusing no one of anything. Merely laying out what I had heard as I had heard it. Including the shark teeth. But certainly expressing concern about the potential for serious headaches if the story proved out.
The director, in turn, passed it to three different camp directors and the teacher in charge of our lifeguards. The fire of panic spread quickly from there, with nervous detective work on the part of several people hitting overdrive the next day. By the end of that following day, barely 24 hours after the ruckus first stirred up, it was relayed to me the Closer-To-Real story: Mac, the original firestarter, had overheard two of the adults -- not counselors -- talking in the lunch hall -- not at the lake -- about a boy who had recently drowned in Lake Chickamauga -- not our school’s “lake.”
Just over 36 hours after my first hearing of Mac’s drowning tale, I was writing an email apologizing to all parties involved for stirring up what proved to be a fairly pointless panic.
A month or so later, with the benefit of hindsight, I’m still not sure how I should have done things differently. But I’m also feeling that I didn’t do things quite right, either.
Maybe it’s inevitable to feel that way with false alarms.
But dammit, maybe not.
Thus, I’ve occasionally spent my space-out summertime fiddling with that little Rubik’s Cube of a dilemma.
There’s a lesson in there somewhere. Isn’t there...?