Yesterday, I saw a man die

No one has drowned at Barton Springs, a popular spring-fed swimming pool in Austin, Texas, for over twenty years. Yesterday, I watched as lifeguards furiously attempted to revive a young man who had drowned rather mysteriously. He had jumped in the water with his friends, and died. He was 21.

As the commotion unfolded, sunbathers on the adjacent grassy hillside rose from their beach towels. Everyone was asked to step back. Lifeguards had to shout and blow whistles repeatedly to get a few single-minded lap swimmers out of the pool, even as the boy’s body remained ominously motionless on the cement walkway. All I could see was his bathing suit, and a pair of legs that refused to move, as the seconds turned to minutes. Two or three attempts at CPR failed.

Everyone reluctantly exited the area as instructed, as approaching sirens were heard. As I walked to the back gate, turning and lingering every few steps, I remember seeing one solitary man, still seated, book in hand, reading away and seemingly oblivious to what was happening. Eventually he got up. I’m sure he felt inconvenienced.

Outside the chain link perimeter of the park and out of view of the pool, I waited for something to happen, but the two ambulances remained parked by the entrance, in no hurry. Nearby, I watched a man and woman chatting under a tree, their smiles and body language indicating mutual attraction. Another girl looked through the fence, and leaned against her boyfriend for comfort. I noted I was alone. I felt vaguely disappointed in myself for not feeling more emotion, and furrowed my brow slightly because it seemed the appropriate face to wear. I wandered toward a gray-haired gentleman, who was playing the role of pundit, offering speculation to a young man. In a field close by, boys played soccer.

I circled around the perimeter of the park to get a better view, following the chain-link fence as it descended down the hill. This time, a kneeling EMS worker thrust his hands without pause, trying to bring a torso back to life.

I watched from a distance. In the foreground, squirrels chased each other. The waters lay gilded with a golden, early evening glow. The scene, with the curve of an aged oak on one side, would make a curious painting. The natural setting remained peacefully indifferent to death. I wrote a brief post for Facebook to document the event, but I forgot to mention where I was.

Finally a gurney took the body away. The application of an IV bag and an oxygen mask provided some false hope, but I knew otherwise. Too much time had passed.

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