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Nathan Gallagher's Letter
To whom it may concern—
I feel that I should first make very clear that I could not be saved. I always hear Katie Couric and Brian Williams and the anchor of the local news talking about how the teenagers killing themselves today could have been saved had this person done something or had that person not done something (typically it’d be reported by the anchor of the local news because Couric concerns herself more with war-crimes and high-profile shindigs rather than today’s Suburbia youth offing themselves.) Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t teens who kill themselves that could have been saved had it been for this person or that random act of kindness or had their parents not been fighting all the time, but I am saying that I am not one of them. I was a lost cause, and no amount of help or therapy or antidepressants could have changed that. I want that to be clear.
I also feel that I should clarify that I do know how to swim, although the bricks on my feet and the Have a Nice Day! bag over my head should be a clear indication that my death was not an accident. One of my earliest memories, in fact, was the day my mother taught me how to swim. I was three years old and it was in the pool in the backyard of the house on 122nd Street, and my mother led me to the water, the blinding sun above heating the deck so much that it burned the bottoms of our feet as we walked across. I remember the cool relief the water brought as I stepped off the burning stone onto the submerged concrete step. My mother and I spent all day in that pool, laughing and smiling and swimming under the shade of the huge oak tree whose trunk stretched to the border of our neighbor’s fence, and as I climbed out of the pool at day’s end, the sky made purple and pink and orange by the setting sun, I was able to swim the width of the pool without my mother’s hand guiding me; my own hands were so pruned that they looked like my grandmother’s. They’re still pruned, wrinkled and ridged with rising and falling crests like waves or the tops of mountains.
It used to feel like I had never spent a day out of the pool since that day in the backyard of the house on 122nd Street, with the sun shining and my mother smiling and the birds singing and me splashing in the crystal blue pool, free of leaves and fully chlorinated. In fact, I swam so much that it affected my physical appearance. We’ve covered the fingers, with the ridges and the crests and whatnot, but even more revealing is my hair, made blonde by the chlorine checked regularly by Mario, the pool boy hired by my father, the good Dr. Gallagher. “I’m a swimmer,” I’d say proudly, whenever someone asked me who I was or what I did, and the medals that hung on the back of my bedroom door and clanged every time the door moved proved it.
But the truth is I haven’t been in a pool since Anthony drowned. Any image of calm and warmth and life that the pool once brought me turn into the image of his body, floating cold and lifeless and dead. There was no blood in the pool but the pool in my dreams is completely full of it, and even though he didn’t scream when it happened his screams echo inside my head, crying for help, crying to be saved, crying for me.
I thought the dog had made the splash. He was no stranger to the pool, and I ignored it because I didn’t want to be the one to dry him because he would have to be dried off or he’d smell like ass and my mother would carry on and my father would throw a fit and I’d be stuck with it, sitting in the backyard with a towel trying to keep the world’s twitchiest dog still while getting stepped on and licked and being smacked in the face a half-dozen times by his happy wagging tail. The thought never entered my mind that it could have been Anthony. As far as I knew he was sleeping soundly in the guest room where I had left him. After about twenty minutes I had forgotten the splash entirely—I had even stopped looking up from the TV to see if the dog was staring stupidly through the window at me.
It was thirty minutes after the splash before I went and checked on Anthony in the guest room. I was babysitting him so that his parents could attend a funeral, and my parents were both at work. His parents were having a pool installed in their backyard and had asked me the week before if I could help teach Anthony how to swim. We had been in our pool three times that week, and Anthony was excited to go again.
After we had been in the pool for close to an hour that day, Anthony started to complain of a stomach ache. I assumed it was all the water he had swallowed, his biggest issue being buoyancy, and after much reluctance he agreed to take a breather and rest in the guest room. He did, and I went into the living room and sat in front of the TV, ignoring the splash to stare lifelessly at whatever pointless program I was watching. I can’t even remember what I was watching.
Whatever it was, it ended at 4 and I got up from the couch to check on Anthony. The bed was empty, the sheets folded back. I walked out of the room and looked down the hall at the bathroom. The door was open and the light was turned off. I called out his name but was met with no response.
I called his name three times before I remembered the splash.
My mother told me at the end of my first day in the pool to never go in unless she or my father was outside with me. She told me it was very dangerous, because if I were to ever get hurt while in the pool, no one would be there to help me. I never once broke this rule and I cannot recollect a single time growing up that I was in the pool without my father sitting up at the table with a book in his hand or my mother sitting on the edge of the pool with her legs in the water and a glass of tea at her side, and I never once got hurt.
Everything changed when I reached the back door. I screamed and ran out, reaching the pool and grabbing Anthony by the ankle and pulling him to the side. I hoisted him up and laid him on the pool deck, pushing hard on his chest and breathing into his mouth, pushing, breathing, and pushing again. I tried. I swear I tried. I screamed for help and help eventually came but it was too late. The paramedics didn’t even try to resuscitate him when they got there. They knew it was too late. They left that part out of the paper.
His parents were called and they came dressed all in black and they cried in my driveway. My parents wouldn’t look at me.
I couldn’t even remember what program I had been watching.
We moved but it hasn’t changed anything. My mother is a lifeless mass, walking from room to room in a daze, while my father goes into fits of rage that can only be described as satanic. Their marriage won’t last, not even when I’m gone.
The dreams have become too much for me to handle. I can’t sleep without seeing him or the pool or the imaginary blood. I never saw him leave the guest room but sometimes I imagine that I did, me sitting on the couch watching him walk out into the backyard, hell-bent on learning how to swim and make me proud and make his parents proud and grow up to be just like me. I try to reach out and stop him but it’s too late—as soon as I get up off the couch and round the corner he’s already face-down in the water.
I couldn’t be saved just like he couldn’t be saved and I’m sorry for that.
God, I am sorry for that.
Excerpt from The Grover Herald, 27 July 2012 Edition
GROVER — Grover Police uncovered the body of seventeen-year old Nathan Gallagher early yesterday morning in the backyard pool of a house in the 2700 block of 122nd Street, the result of an apparent suicide. Gallagher and his family were former residents of the home, but police say that they moved last June after seven-year old Anthony Rinaldi died in the same pool while under Gallagher’s care. The home was vacant until this past April, when it became occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Peter Scalding.
Grover Police Lieutenant Frank P. Whitney says that Mr. and Mrs. Scalding were out of town at the time of Gallagher’s death and returned to Grover on an early morning flight from Charlotte. The Scaldings reported that the pool had been drained since they had moved in, with no intention of ever filling it.
“We thought it was tragic what happened to the little boy last year,” Mrs. Scalding told the Herald. “We planned to fill it part-way with concrete and the rest with dirt and have a little garden there.”
Police speculate that Gallagher jumped the fence and filled the pool using the Scaldings’ water hose, which may have taken up to ten hours to complete.
A source who wishes to remain anonymous reported to the Herald that the victim was found submerged at the deeper end of the pool with bricks tied to the bottoms of his shoes with rope and a plastic bag taped over his head. Preliminary blood reports show traces of a tranquilizer in his bloodstream.
Neighbors reported hearing a splash sometime Tuesday afternoon, but thought nothing of it.
A missing person’s report was filed the morning of the 24th by the boy’s father, Dr. James Gallagher. The report states that Dr. Gallagher and his wife had not seen or heard from their son since the evening of the 22nd, and that it was highly irregular for him not to check in. The report also mentions that Gallagher had appeared to be depressed days prior.
“He loved the pool,” a friend of the Gallagher family told the Herald. “It was his entire life.” The family could not be reached for comment.
Archives of the Herald reveal that Nathan Gallagher was an all-American swimmer, winning two back-to-back state competitions with his high school swim team. A suicide note was found on the pool deck. . .