Sunday, June 18, 2006

Forgetting David

Erased from history

David's been gone for about fifty years. Sorry, but I can't even give you accurate numbers. About fifty years is the best I can manage. This goes back to a time, very early in my life, when my memories are vague and inchoate. It was similarly very early in David's life, but also very late. The people who know the details aren't talking, and I dare not ask them.

It was startling to remember. More accurately, to remember that I don't remember much of anything. The reminder, if it comes at all, comes in the form of news reports. The start of the summer is always the time for news media to carry the first sad reports of children drowning in swimming pools, lakes, or rivers. In the rural community of my childhood, the extensive system of agricultural irrigation canals would routinely claim a few lives each year. Swimming pools were relatively rare, but there was one near David's house, next door in his grandparents' back yard.

He was not yet three when he discovered that he could reach the latch on the front gate of the fence that surrounding the home he shared with his parents and infant sister. That fence was the only thing separating him from the swimming pool, where he was found after it was already too late.

The decades of my life have been wonderfully insulated, for the most part, from tragic loss. It is not for me to judge how people deal with their grief. From my outsider's perspective, it seems that David's family decided he had never really existed. My family and his were quite close, visiting each other frequently, taking vacations together. I never saw a picture of him in his family's house and I never heard his name mentioned by his parents. It was a bit of a surprise to me when his third sister was born a few years later and I heard my parents comment that it appeared that their friends would never have “another” son. The remark was a shock to me, because I didn't remember him. Once, when her parents were out of the room, David's oldest sister confided that she thought she might have a tenuous recollection of her elder brother, but it could well have been her imagination.

Throughout my childhood, the swimming pool near our friends' home remained unfenced, a popular location for parties in the grandparents' back yard. In later years it finally acquired a chain-link fence. No one else ever drowned in it. I remember being in that pool a couple of times, but not often. I'm rather phobic toward bodies of water large enough to be immersed in. It's not at all clear to me that this aversion can be linked to any one particular cause, but I wonder.

David is gone so thoroughly from all of our lives that literally years can pass without my remembering that he once existed, although I did today. I doubt if the same thing is true for his parents or his three sisters, although only one of them has the least chance of recalling him from personal experience. You have to find a way to go on, and they have done that.

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