This time, there would be very little grief on my part since all my grief was reserved for Chastin.
Maybe most of Jeremy’s grief was reserved for Chastin, too.
It was a possibility.
I used to assume that the individual deaths of a person’s children would be equally difficult for them. Losing a second or even third child would hurt just as much as the first experience.
But that was before Jeremy and I lost Chastin. Her death made us swell with grief. It filled every crevice inside of us, every limb.
If the canoe were to capsize with the children in it—if Harper were to drown—Jeremy might not have room for more grief. Maybe he was at full capacity.
When you’ve already lost one child, you might as well have lost them all.
With no room for more grief and Harper no longer around, the three of us could become the perfect family.
She was several feet from me, playing in the sand. I stood up and wiped the back of my jeans. “Come on, sweetie. Let’s go for a ride in the canoe with your brother.”
Harper jumped up, unaware as she stepped foot onto the dock that she’d never know what the earth felt like beneath her feet again.
“I get front,” she said. I followed her to the edge of the dock. I helped Crew climb in first, then Harper. Then I sat down and carefully lowered myself into the boat. I used the paddle to push away from the dock.
I was in the back of the boat, and Crew was in the middle. I paddled us out to the middle of the lake as they leaned over the edge, running their fingers in the water.
The lake was calm as I looked around. We lived in a cove with 2,000 feet of shoreline, so we didn’t get much of the lake traffic out here. It was a quiet day.
Harper sat up straight in the canoe and wiped her hands on her leggings. She turned around, her back to me Crew and me.
I leaned forward, close to Crew’s ear. I covered his mouth with my hand. “Crew. Sweetie. Hold your breath.”
I gripped the edge of the canoe and leaned all my weight to the right.
I heard a small yelp. I wasn’t sure if it came from Crew or Harper, but after the yelp and the initial splash, I heard nothing. Just pressure. The silence pressed against my ears as I kicked my arms and legs until I broke through the surface.
I could hear splashing. Harper’s scream. Crew’s scream. I swam toward Crew and wrapped my arms around him. I looked toward the house, hoping I could make it back to shore with him. We were farther out than I’d realized.
I started swimming. Harper was screaming.
I continued to swim.
She continued to scream.
I heard another splash.
I kept swimming and refused to look back until I could feel the mud seep between my toes. I gripped at the surface of the lake like it was a life vest. Crew was gasping and coughing, bobbing up and down, clinging to me. It was harder than I thought it would be to keep him afloat.
Jeremy would thank me for this. For saving Crew.
He’d be devastated, of course, but thankful, too.
I wondered if we’d sleep in the same bed that night. He would be exhausted, but he would want to sleep in the same bed as me, hold me, make sure I was okay.
“Harper!” Crew yelled as soon as he cleared his lungs of water.
I covered Crew’s mouth and dragged him to the shore, plopping him down on the sand. His eyes were wide with fear. “Mommy!” he cried, pointing behind me. “Harper can’t swim!”
Sand was all over me, stuck to my hands, my arms, my thighs. My lungs felt like fire. Crew tried to crawl back toward the water, but I pulled his hand and made him sit down. The ripples from the commotion of the water were still lapping at my toes. I looked out at the lake, but there was nothing. No screaming. No splashing.
Crew was growing more and more hysterical.
“I tried to save her,” I whispered. “Mommy tried to save her.”
“Go get her!” he screamed, pointing out at the lake.
I wondered then how it would look if he told anyone I didn’t go back out into the water. Most mothers wouldn’t leave the water until they’d found their child. I needed to get back in the water.
“Crew. We need to save Harper. Do you remember how to use Mommy’s phone to call Daddy?”
He nodded, wiping tears from his cheeks.
“Go. Go to the house and call Daddy. Tell him Mommy is trying to save Harper and he needs to call the police.”
“Okay!” he said, running up to the house.
He was such a good brother.
I was cold and out of breath, but I trudged back out into the lake. “Harper?” I said her name quietly, afraid if I called too loudly, she’d get a second wind and pop up out of the water.
I took my time. I didn’t want to go too far and risk touching her, bumping into her. What if there was still life in her and she clung to my shirt? Tried to pull me under?
I was aware I needed to be out here when Jeremy showed up. I needed to be crying. Cold. On the verge of hypothermia. Bonus points if I was taken away in an ambulance.
The canoe was upside down, closer inland than when it flipped. Jeremy and I had flipped the canoe a couple of times before, so I was aware there were air pockets when it was positioned like it was. What if Harper had swam to it? What if she had clung to it and was hiding under it? Waiting to tell her daddy what I had done?
I worked my way to the canoe. I moved carefully, not wanting to touch her. When I reached the capsized boat, I held my breath and went under the water. I popped up inside the canoe.
Oh, thank God, I thought.
She wasn’t there.
I heard Crew calling my name from far away. I ducked under the water and popped up outside the canoe. I screamed Harper’s name, full of panic, like an actual devastated mother would.
“Daddy is coming!” Crew yelled from the shore.
I started screaming Harper’s name even louder. The police would be here soon, before Jeremy.
I went under several times so that I’d be out of breath. I did that, over and over, until I could barely stay afloat. I screamed her name and didn’t stop until a police officer was pulling me out of the water.
I continued to scream her name, throwing in the occasional, “My daughter!” and “My baby girl!”
One person was in the water looking for her. Then two. Then three. Then I felt someone fly past me, onto the dock. He ran to the end and jumped in head first. When he popped up, I saw that it was Jeremy.
I can’t describe the look on his face as he yelled for her. It was a look of determination mixed with horror mixed with psychosis.
I was crying real tears at that point. I was hysterical. I wanted to smile at how appropriately hysterical I was, but I didn’t because part of me knew I had messed up. I could see it in Jeremy’s face. This one would be even harder for him to recover from than Chastin.
I didn’t anticipate that.
She’d been under water for over half an hour when he finally found her. She was tangled in a fishing net. I couldn’t tell if it was green or yellow from where I sat on the beach, but I remembered Jeremy losing a yellow fishing net last year. What are the odds that I tipped the canoe in the exact spot it was tangled beneath the surface? Had the fishing net not been there, she probably would have made it to shore.
After she was untangled, the men helped Jeremy lift her onto the dock. Jeremy tried to perform CPR until the paramedic made it to the edge of the dock. And even then, he wouldn’t stop.
He wouldn’t stop until he had no choice. The dock began to cave in, and Jeremy rolled right off the edge of it, catching Harper in his arms. Three other men remained on the dock, reaching for her body.
I wondered if that moment would haunt him. Having to catch his dead daughter’s body as she fell on top of him in the water.
Jeremy wouldn’t let go of her. He found his footing in the water and carried her, all the way to the shore. When he reached the sand, he collapsed, still holding her. He pressed his face into her sopping wet hair, and I heard him whispering to her.
“I love you, Harper. I love you, Harper. I love you, Harper.”
He said it over and over as he held her. His sadness made me ache for him. I crawled to him, to her, and I wrapped my arms around them both. “I tried to save her,” I whispered. “I tried to save her.”