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What The Water Gave Me

By Michelle Jacobs

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This boy who was saved, spared, blissfully alive and crying and kicking swimming, all movement in his father’s grasp, all slimy fish and gills breathing somehow underwater.


The fish pond is the center of my parents’ backyard, a natural refuge, an Eden-like garden delight and a playground for my two-year-old son, a wild boy running free.

Circling the pond is a Buddha statue, a carved pelican and my grandmother’s garden girl sculpture which all seem now to be guardians of the pond.

The Koi fish swim deep, unseen mostly, but I saw them in a quiet moment of unspeakable gratitude. After the sparing, after the shadow passed, the reaper walked on and breathed on us all as he passed. After it all, I stood staring at the pond, at my son’s would be grave, at the murky, quiet undisturbed depths, a sheen glowed green and brown. The tangled net that held him lay ripped and snagged, torn apart by his father, to free and to save this miracle boy, this little fish, this wild Huckleberry boy of rivers, oceans, pools and ponds. This boy who was saved, spared, blissfully alive and crying and kicking swimming, all movement in his father’s grasp, all slimy fish and gills breathing somehow underwater.

I started to walk away from the pond, from the stillness after the chaos and the afterglow of evening dying and in the quiet, a splash erupted as insistent as a voice, a call. I turned to look at the pond and the fish were at the surface slapping their fin bodies and moving their mouths for food, of course, but in my myth they spoke of what they saw, bearing witness under the water.

For they must have seen the will my boy had to live, the grasping hands seeking air and sky and other arms to hold him. The fish must have seen his strong legs and body twisting, fighting the weight of water, sinking depths. They must have seen the shadow of his cousin running, leaping, reaching, clinging and struggling to save my boy, my boy, my boy. They must have felt her fall in with all her effort and love holding him, lifting him, trying to untangle him. Until his father overtook them all scattering the fish, the lily pads, the algae and the slime, a force moving the pond, moving time, hands reaching and reaching, feeling the slippery boyfish caught, stuck in the netting that kept the birds out. They must have seen him slipping, slipping, slipping away while the seconds, minutes, hours ticked and ticked and ticked until his father ripped the netting and lifted the boy from the depths of the earth holding tight to life.

The fish swim on. The stone and wood statues are quiet, mute with explanation. I walk away from the now tranquil scene, from the wise and knowing trees silent with reasons to tell me why we were spared. No one can tell how much time really passed, how long he was under water, why the splash made his cousin alert and wondering, looking once and looking again from the hammock hearing a splash but seeing nothing, laughing in the hammock, sorrow hovering so close to happiness. Only the trees towering above it all, filtering the wind, sheltering the birds, watching the humans, the mistakes, the triumphs, pure chance, pure action.

I don’t know what my two-year-old saw in the depths, but I know he felt his father’s hands sure and solid, of this world, holding him and lifting him out of the dark, out of the water.
Michelle Jacobs lives in Virginia Beach, VA with her husband and three kids. She can be reached at

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