The little girl will always be three years old in my head. I never saw her; I never felt her life slip away under the hot Costa Rican afternoon sun, but the image in my head is clear. Her dark hair is matted and sand clumps around her face and under her chin. Her small hands are cupped, like she’s sleeping. A small, delicate gold bracelet dangles from her tiny wrist, possibly a gift from her grandmother at Christmas. She is laying there in a one piece bathing suit. Is it pink or blue or maybe purple? Little girl colors, I see pink.
Her eyes are not completely closed nor are they open but I can see a sliver of white and I know her eyes are dark brown, like her mother’s and father’s. I am not quite looking down on her; it’s more like I’m a detached spectator, part of a crowd that’s gathered. She is unnaturally still; her small body is tiny against the dark sand as I focus on her hands. Her fingers are so small. She has perfect little girl fingernails. Her skin is perfectly brown. I look away.
The faces looking down at her are in shock. Every woman holds her own face, covering their mouths, cupping their cheeks. Every mother is holding their child close; babies are in their mother’s arms. Some start ushering children away; they know. The men seem helpless. Their brows are furrowed, they are bowing their heads, and their hands are on their hips. For the most part, it’s silent except for the crashing of the waves in the background. The men and women stand in a circle around the little girl and her mother.
There are three people on their knees around the little girl. All of their hands are working on her. One woman, a blond, older, woman with an athletic build, is in charge. She speaks with authority and trained calmness. She is leading the fight to save the girl’s life. Her hands are white against tanned skin. They look huge as they pump gently on a tiny, silent heart. The man at the girl’s head holds her face close to his, ready. He is trained, he brought her out of the waves, and he saw life in her only to watch it disappear moments later. He is the lifeguard. He listens carefully, his eyes never off of the little girl’s face. When he’s told, his duty is to give her his breath. I sense that he is willing life back into her with his eyes. He is praying to his God to let his breath be her own. God already has her breath, but he keeps praying.
The third person is my father. He has both of his hands on the little girl’s legs; her knees are bent. He is rubbing them and whispering something, his eyes close tightly then open again, they are piercing blue. I know what he is doing. He is pleading. He is pleading with her to come back to the beach. He is pleading with her because he knows her spirit is close, watching. He makes promises he cannot keep as he looks over to her mother’s body. He lifts her legs, bends them at the knee, and tries to push life back into her. I know he is thinking about his own children, his baby granddaughter; I know his heart is breaking.
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