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Last Swim

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“Daddy! Come play! Come play!” chanted the seven-year old girls from the swimming pool. On a hot July afternoon, the Sea Chambers hotel in Ogunquit, Maine was bustling with guests eager to soak up the New England sun. The familiar air smelt of seawater and sunscreen, and all you could hear was pleasant chatter amidst the lapping waves. The girls continued to whine to their dads, and three well-toned men finally put down their sodas, and comically belly-flopped off the diving board, splashing the chuckling girls. As I continued to play alone, I listened to the girls’ high-pitched laughter as they rode on their fathers’ backs in the forbidden “deep end.” I did not envy the fun they were having; it just made me realize everything that I had lost over the last year.
That winter, my dad was diagnosed with a form of Sarcoma Cancer that required amputation of his left leg to avoid further infection. While recuperating from the surgery, my dad rarely left the house, and I had grown very used to, even fond, of his new appearance. When we were together, I didn’t look at him in any different way. He was just my dad, and it never dawned on me that strangers might look at him differently. But that summer, I saw these young girls stare awkwardly at him, and for the first time, I saw him as a handicapped individual, and not as my dad.

As an inexperienced seven-year-old, I obviously wasn’t allowed to venture off into the perilous “deep end” without either the help of a parent or some floaties, so I continued to splash around the shallow end alone. I guess my dad noticed me sneaking an occasional glimpse at the girls in the “deep end,” and without his prosthetic leg, he hobbled me with the help of his crutches. At once, the girls caught sight of his “disability.” They shot a look at my dad as if he were some kind of extraterrestrial being, and I remember the sound of their giggles at the fact that only one leg popped out the end of his shorts.

Paying no attention to the girls’ stares my dad said, “Ali, how about I head into town and pick up a pair of swim trunks? How does that sound, sweetheart?”

“Yes!” my heart told me. But out of the corner of my eye, I was still conscious of the girls peering over, discreetly laughing at my dad who wanted nothing other than to play with his daughter.

For the first time, I felt my body go hot with embarrassment because of my dad’s condition, and I impulsively replied, “No daddy. My fingers are ‘pruny.’ I think I’ll get out now.”

Looking back, I should’ve trusted my heart and swam in with my courageous father. Despite his physical disability, my dad did not let it get the best of him—I did. That summer would be the last summer I got to spend with him because by the fall, the cancer had spread throughout his body, and on October 2, 2000, my father passed away at the age of 37. I know that the girls’ naïve stares were not malicious, but their looks brought me such embarrassment that I failed to realize the great lengths my dad would go just to make me smile. I never thought that beautiful summer day would be my final opportunity to plunge into the “deep end” with my father, and ten years later, it still kills me to think that that moment was my last chance. Losing what was most important truly taught me to never take things for granted. I learned to live each moment to the fullest because every chance I am given could very well be my last.





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