Downstream Effects: Milton McGriff
My momma never learned how to swim
“so, if you don’t come back with my kids
you better not bother coming back at all,”
she shouted at Brother as his truck pulled
out. “Nothing’s going happen to your kids
Cheryl! Damn. They’re wearing life jackets,”
uncle yelled and kept driving, and the day
went pretty much like that. We jug fished
from my uncle’s boat, roasted marshmallows
and ate hotdogs on the banks until the darkness
forced us and our bleach bottle traps back to
the strip pit shores. Alive and dry we returned
to Momma, and after that day, she stopped telling
the stories of her childhood friend, a black redbone
boy, who drowned in Sparta lake.
Because of Momma, my kids live a different life
with lessons at the local YMCA. Though small,
they swim like schools of stygian fish never
questioning that they once breathed water, and my
heart leaps and beats with their every tread, flip,
and dive, as I watch them submerge my fear to push
their lapis joy forward. They don’t know that their
Grandma wasn’t allowed to swim in the “whites only”
swimming pool and that their momma didn’t learn how
to swim until she was an adult because there was no blue
chlorinated water for inner-city Chicago latchkey kids.
To swim was to fly and flying came with fear.
At a play date pool party, I still made my children
wear life vests. Yes, they could swim, but there were
no duty lifeguards, and I couldn’t trust a backyard pool
party with suburban moms, small talk and gluten free
foods. Respectful, my kids laughed and swam like
ocean buoys, not complaining about the conspicuous
weight of their vests. “You’re making it harder for them.
They will do better without the jackets. They really can
swim,” my friend told me, and initially, I was offended.
“Good mothers build safety nets,” I snapped back at him,
“but your kids aren’t in danger of dying,” he snapped back.
Eventually, the party ended, and I was left with his words
like grit and sand between my toes. “Did you have a good time?”
I asked my kids. “Yeah!” they replied. It would be awhile
before I noticed the preserver ring his words had thrown me,
swaying. I grasped on tight. See I was the one drowning,
and my kids were working overtime to rescue me.