Sunday, February 8, 2009

Saving a Life

A few weeks ago I was reminded of a high school peer who tragically passed away before his senior year. Although he's entered my mind over the years, I'd never really thought about what his life would have been like had he survived that car crash in 1997. What would he be doing? Who would he have loved? What kind of man would Bobby Pollick have become?

In imagining his alternate future, one word came to mind above all others: robbed. A person robbed of a long life; a family robbed of a precious, lifelong relationship with their son. Though I can't begin to comprehend the depth of the pain, I know this is when life is a million miles from being close to fair.

All of this brought me back to a half-repressed memory of a near-death experience long ago. It was when the life of someone extremely close to me was almost robbed. To this day I find it strange that I haven't dwelled on this event more, because while its notion is terrifying, its ending was absolutely life-saving.

It was around 1990, and my family was vacationing in Myrtle Beach like we always did in those early summers of my life. In a lot of ways, the tourist trap of the surrounding Myrtle Beach area was a kid's fantasy, with no shortage of arcades, water parks, putt-putt golf, and magic castles.

One afternoon my dad took my brother and I to race around a bumper boat track. It was the first time I'd been to one. It was also the last.

A few laps into our race, my brother Chris was ahead of me, with my dad trailing behind. I remember watching Chris as he approached his next left turn around the inside perimeter. Instead of keeping his eyes ahead of him, he was looking back at me with an "I'm in first place" smile. That's when it happened.

Without seeing the upcoming turn, his boat collided with the corner of the ramped guardrail, launching it in the air and quickly overturning it. In a matter of seconds, Chris went from a smiling face to face-down in the dark water, capsized.

Our fun-filled afternoon had taken such a sudden turn for the worst that in the seconds following, I was in a partial state of shock. Before the incident could fully register, my dad rushed up to Chris's boat, unbuckled himself, and jumped into the water. I just sat there in my boat, stunned with disbelief.

Just 10 seconds later, my dad emerged clutching Chris, both okay. Apparently he was also sitting there dazed, still buckled in underwater trying to collect himself. It was then when my dad quickly unbuckled his belt, pulled him out, and saved his life.

My dad's done many great things in his life, but this is by far the most heroic and unrecognized.

We immediately got out of the water and left the place. I remember being the only dry one as my dad and brother walked away leaving a long water trail behind them. "That really scared the shit out of me," my dad blurted in a rare, profane admission. "Better not tell your mother about this."

To this day, we haven't. In fact, I don't recall ever talking about it again with him or my brother. I suppose it's easy to forget a near-tragedy like this, both because of its unpleasantness as well as the fact that the course of our lives was quickly corrected. But these things should never be forgotten. Because the truth is that most of us undervalue the fact that every day, we have another 24 hours to walk, breathe, and live, always underestimating how a lifetime can be stolen in a matter of seconds.