People | Generations

Up and Under: On Water, Fatherhood, and the Perils of Both

“The nurse sucked the last of his water world out of him. And then the cry, a goodbye to that wet planet.”

My nose filled with water. Then the sharp sting down the throat. I did what I wasn’t supposed to do. I opened my mouth. I screamed. Then the flood of a cave. My chest and head and ears hurt. My ears rang, high-pitched sonar. I thought I was going to die, or I was dying. And it was my mother—your grandmother—who had killed me. My mother—your grandmother—who threw me into the river to teach me how to swim. Maybe this was what she wanted. One less mouth to feed. One less child to care for. We were poor. Sometimes a country—even Thailand—forgets people like us. And it is a different type of drowning. But in that water I bobbled up and down, the river angry with surge. I saw my mother fading away. I saw her turn her back. Saw her walking in the opposite direction. Her hair glowed white from the sun. Under again. Up again. Water blurred my vision. Water and dirt and soot. Water flowed out of my mouth and nose. Water tasting of sour earth. Water splattered out in a series of coughs. And then the bite. Sharp. On my calf. And another. Piranhas. These bites saved my life. Because now my legs kicked viciously. Because now my arms worked harder for the shore. And then I was out. A small chunk of my calf missing, like the indentation of a finger. When you were small you liked to touch it, remember? You liked it when I told you this story. You like the ending, which was this: There she was, my mother—your grandmother—waiting with a raggedy towel.

“You are alive,” she said, “and stronger.”