If you grew up near Plainville, you probably heard about the Park Terrace pool incident. That’s what people called it, an incident, because what else could they call it? If it had been a gunman, it would’ve been a killing, but a lightning bolt? God-fearing Christians wouldn’t want to imply that their lord and savior was involved in a massacre. They wouldn’t say it aloud, anyway, but the whole thing was such a fluke that a lot of locals suspected the higher power’s complicity.
I’ll tell it quick: right about the time the lifeguard was noticing the enormous size of the thunderhead that was suddenly blocking the sun, the tinny voice from the little transistor radio he kept under his chair warned that lightning was on the way. The lifeguard told the kids to get out of the pool, but it was summer and it was sunny 10 minutes ago, so they weren’t quite hurrying. Right about that same time, the teen lifeguard had been obeying one of the area moms and using the long-handle skimmer to get a weird clump of dark hair out of the pool, but before he can reach it, he hears the lifeguard’s warning and leans the metal skimmer against the edge of the pool, still half in the water, so he can start helping people out. As he walks away, the skimmer slides left and gets propped against the metal post that holds the basketball hoop out over the water. You see what’s happening here, right? The lifeguards are helping the little kids out of the water and it gets to where the teens who didn’t want to come out sort of have to now, but they’re still pushing each other, splashing, only slowly heading toward the stairs. There were still five of them in the shallows when there was a crackling boom like nothing any of them had ever heard. The lightning struck the basketball hoop, which would’ve been fine except for that skimmer, which guided all that electricity straight into the water. All five kids keeled over dead.
Lifeguards and parents jumped in to fish the kids out, laying them on the wet concrete. People were trying CPR if they knew it, but no one could find a pulse or feel a breath. It was a grim spectacle, with people weeping and parents pulling their kids close so they won’t look. At first it seems none of the boys’ parents are there, not uncommon for teens, but then Stanley Glovers’ mother emerges from the changing room, had been in there through the whole thing. She steps out into the mayhem, no idea what’s happened, can’t make heads or tails of things until she sees her son laying in that line of five kids, and it’s clear that ain’t good. She screamed, loud as that lightning, “STANLEY!”
Now whether you call it a miracle, or just really good conditioning by a parent, when her scream burst across the pool, Stanley sat straight up and said, “I’m coming.” As he struggled and failed to stand up, the lifeguards and parents rushed back to those other four kids, thinking they obviously gave up too early. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Stanley was the only one revived.
The incident was the talk of the town. They couldn’t call it a miracle because the other four kids were dead, and that ain’t much of a miracle. Stanley was on the news, said he felt fine, just sore like he’d swum a hundred laps. He said when it happened, it felt just like being pushed, except the hand that pushed him felt big as a Pontiac. The first thing you’d think by that description was that it was the hand of god, but like I said, folks in those parts didn’t like to think of god pushing kids over in the pool.
Stanley’s mother saw it different. She said mother nature was the hand that pushed him, but god was the hand that saved him. He was special, she said. He’d been singled out by god. He had a destiny. That’s a lot to saddle on a fourteen year old kid, and Stanley refused to let her strap on the weight of it.
His summer fame faded in September, and by Christmas break, it was just one of those stories every city has. Nobody really thought about it except Stanley. A strange seed had been planted – what had happened to him that day? How could a surge that killed four leave him unscathed? That’s when he started wondering if something did happen, deep in him. He thought about a sudden, strong current rushing through a river, how it could change the bed beneath the surface. The river looks the same, but below the surface, it has changed. He was never that good at math, but now when he couldn’t figure a certain equation, he wondered if the lightning had blotted out that part of his brain. When he couldn’t decide on an ice cream flavor, was the lightning to blame?
Over the years, that seed kept growing. His gregarious nature allowed him to make friends easily, and he was a steady source of love to his sisters and nieces, so there was no reason for anyone to think there was anything wrong. But when he was sitting at home at night, he’d examine his life, sometimes mercilessly. He’d wonder why his coworkers were always angling for promotions while he could search his whole soul and not find an ounce of ambition. Did that part get burned out of him at the Park Terrace pool, or was he just lazy and glad to have an alibi? Why couldn’t he meet a nice woman and fall in love? Why’d he like music everyone else hated? His record collection was Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa, mostly, what his nieces called barely organized noise. Did his sense of melody get rewired when that electricity left him dead, at least for a moment?
His mother argued that all these things aligned to him being chosen by god for something special. He had no ambition because his destiny wasn’t in industry, it was in the church. He couldn’t meet a nice woman because men of the church couldn’t have wives. (She couldn’t explain the Zappa.) She told him this for years, but he refused to buy in. Giving himself permission to believe that he was one of god’s chosen ones was more chutzpah than he could muster. Besides, he never quite forgave god for taking four of his friends.
One Christmas eve when his family was over for dinner, his nieces laughing that he couldn’t hang just regular socks on the mantel and complaining that he never bought new records. The young one was taking his picture, badly, when she surprised him with a weird question: What if Grandma was right? What if god had been calling him, and instead of sitting bolt upright, he’d chosen to lay there and play dead? Metaphorically speaking, she said.
It wasn’t the first time he wondered it. Sometimes, especially around Christmas when all the carolers are singing about god and the greeting cards are praising his name, he’d wonder what was in store for him if his grandma had been right. What if he got to the pearly gates and god was standing there with his hands on his hips, giving him a lecture for turning down the job he’d been selected for. Would he get the boot? Was god the type to hold a grudge? All he could hope was that when god was done explaining his disappointment in Stanley, Stanley could snap back the names of those four friends and tell him we all have our disappoints, but we move on anyway. He hoped that if he did, god would just say, touché, and whisk him through the door.
© 2016 WPReagan. This is one story in the 2016 series, Everyday Stories: 30 Tales in 30 Days Inspired by 30 Stranger’s Photographs.