Sunday, June 10, 2012


The other evening found me a little down. It’s been such a long haul going through Cecil’s transplant. He’s in Charlottesville. I’m mostly in Roanoke. And, though the worst of the ordeal seems to be behind us, sometimes it’s still hard to escape the Poor Me thing. At night, I sit alone in a big house that’s staged for sale, and then get up each morning to deal with people’s difficult divorces. My free time is spent driving back and forth between Roanoke and Charlottesville – remnants of life here and the struggle for life there.

I’ve stopped wearing make-up and, the other day just before I finished up at work, I realized I hadn’t combed my hair yet. The only thing anyone sees me in anymore are the two or three outfits that don’t need to be ironed. My fingernails are frequently dirty from gardening late at night or early in the morning. It’s really not a pretty picture.

So, I took a glass of wine out to the patio and sat by our pond, looking forward to a tranquil session of self-pity. Just as I plunked myself into a chair, I noticed the fountainhead on the pond pump was struggling along at not much more than a gurgle, two clicks short of a complete blockage.

“Great” was all I could muster. I needed just one more thing to deal with.

Cecil is the one who cleans the pond and fixes the pump when it plugs up. We have a rule: he doesn’t go into the water without someone standing by. It’s slippery in there and he could fall, maybe hit his head. I don't want to come home and find him floating. But he wasn’t there this evening and someone needed to fix the pump.

I grabbed his waders – big heavy waterproof boots that go up past his hips and fasten over his shoulders with suspenders. Since neighbors can’t see the pond area, and I didn’t feel like going upstairs to get suitable clothing, I stripped down to bra and underwear and stepped into the waders. Let’s just say they were too big.

I walked like an astronaut in space gear over to the pond’s edge and scaled the rock barrier down into the dark water. To call the bottom slimy simply wouldn’t do it justice. Even through the boots, I could feel the uncertainty of every step. There was no escaping the feeling that I was standing someplace civilized people don’t go. The word lagoon came to mind. And then there were the fish. We’d started with maybe ten. There were now a hundred and fifty if there was a one. You’d think they’d swim away from big boots in their pond but, apparently, they were curious and needed to nibble at me.  

Out from the edge I crept, understanding more fully why it’s a good idea to have an observer. About a foot from the fountainhead, I realized I’d forgotten to turn off the pump. Too bad. I wasn’t about to retrace my steps and crawl back out, so I ventured on.

At the pump, I reached down into the murkiness and started pulling clots and clumps of green goop off the motor. This was the sort of yuck that any woman in her right mind would have flung with a vengeance, but I got to hold it in my left hand while I went back for more with my right. I was leaning over the fountain to clean the far side when, apparently, I found the sweet spot and cleared the blockage.

In an instant, the fountainhead burst free and shot up, not unlike Old Faithful. Unfortunately, I was in its path. Water filled my mouth, rushed into my nostrils and nearly blinded me, if I still had eyes at all. Without thinking, I jumped back and, needless to say, lost footing.

It was a heartbreaking few seconds, as I tried to prevent the inevitable.

The full-body splash nearly emptied the pond. Even before I was done falling, I wondered how many fish were being tossed out to their death. As I felt the cold rush taking over my hair, I had that sickening realization that I was now fully under water, and panicked at the thought of fish swimming down into the waders. The worst part was that I couldn’t scream. I really needed to scream.

The thrashing got me nowhere, neither did grabbing at plants. And everything I touched felt like it had jumped straight from the screen of a horror flick into our pond. Surely blood suckers and snakes were making their way out from darkened corners to get me. 

Against every impulse, I rolled over onto all fours and actually placed both hands on the bottom of this hell hole. With more traction, I managed to thrust my head up and out of the water. The instant I cleared the surface, I let out a howl that, no doubt, rattled windows in the neighborhood.

Instinct told me not to stand up again, so I crawled to the edge and tried to drag myself up onto the rocks. Half-way up, my strength gave out, now that the waders were filled with water and weighed the better part of a thousand pounds. I fell back in and suffered the unspeakable a second time. It occurred to me that I might sling one leg up. That would’ve worked great if there’d been a crane waiting to catch the boot. The only thing left was to drop drawer in the pond. Somehow, I wasn’t warming up to the idea of standing in what now seemed like a swamp, clad only in my skivvies.

That hesitation dissipated when I felt something brush up against my leg inside the waders. I froze. Was that a freakin’ fish? I wasn’t going to wait around to find out. I peeled the damn waders off and leaped out of them like a ballerina in full split, then hauled my sorry self out of the pond with a strength that would rival the kind mothers use to lift vehicles off their children.

Once on dry land, I collapsed onto the grass. As I lay there panting, I noticed the bra was a little askew and there was some inappropriate exposure going on. It'd be just my luck that a satellite would pass over right about them to capture me for the Internet.

There was still the matter of the waders I'd left in the pond. I could go back in for them, if I were stark raving mad. Instead, I grabbed the pond net, hooked the suspenders, and dragged the waders to the edge. I won’t even mention how many living things came swimming out as I emptied everything into the water. 

I made my way to the patio, where my glass of wine still sat on the table. It was supposed to have been such a peaceful interlude – maybe a little soul searching, maybe some reckoning with reality. Instead, I stood soaking wet in my underwear, with a strand of slimy something or other dangling from my hair, wondering how long before the PTSD would set in.  

One would think I’d have run like an Olympian to the shower. Instead, I sat and drank my wine. After a few sips, I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself no matter what is going on in my life. So what if my husband is going through a stem cell transplant and I am exhausted and stressed out and way behind on everything I need to do? I looked out at the pond. Life can always be worse.

My little mishap made me realize a couple things. First, bad times are always a matter of perspective and, also, you should never go into the pond alone – or at all, if you can help it.


  1. Treasures like this incident require an audience to achieve their full value. This was an audience of one, who, thankfully realized a nugget anyone would pass along as lore had they been there to enjoy. I now feel like one among a bleacher of depraved viewers, doing little but laugh histerically as the scene unfolded, who can, and will, pass along the tale as if I was actually there.

  2. Laughing out loud, Donna. Thank you! Ironically, yesterday, after a friend had told me a tale of woe about her teenager's pity party, I read something about self-pity in my Saturday book. And now, here it is again. This afternoon I will send you both some of what I read.

  3. When you first mentioned the pond, before falling in, I thought about the little book I just read, Babbit's
    "Tuck Everlasting". In that book they row a young girl around a pond in order to catch a fish, but they don't say how big or deep it is. In my mind's eye it seemed small. But you make your pond sound very, very big! Maybe waders aren't a good thing after all!