When the kids were little, their Uncle Joey was the manager of the Red Carpet Inn on Route 17. We used to go there almost every summer day to use the pool. It was a pool at a motel, so it wasn’t like we were living the high life, but it was pool, and that was a lot. Our town didn’t have a pool, and we couldn’t drive to the beach all the time. So it worked great for us.
Joan and I were in business school together. When I met her, I thought that she couldn’t be that smart, because she had such a street attitude. I thought, mistakenly, that people could only be street smart, or book smart, not both. Joan proved to be the only person in our class besides myself who received all ‘A’s. We were both on the President’s List every term. And we found that we got along well, and enjoyed each other’s company. Soon we were talking on the phone, visiting each’s others homes, and going places together.
One day, I invited Joan to the motel pool, and she accepted. She was supposed to meet us there at 10:00 am, but we waited for a couple of hours until she showed with her two kids, and one extra. She seemed out of breath and out of sorts, and began apologizing for the extra head. “I’m sorry, I had to take him. He’s my neighbor. His parents had a fight, and he came to me. I just couldn’t leave him there. He won’t be a problem.”
Joan’s kids stripped off their cover ups and jumped in the pool with my children. The boy, who was about twelve years old, was sitting next to Joan while she prattled on about his parent’s bad parenting skills and shambles of a household. My heart broke a little for him.
He squirmed uncomfortably, then asked, “Can I go in the pool, too?” She scolded him. “No, you don’t have a bathing suit”, then turned to me, “He doesn’t own a bathing suit.” He was in a tee shirt and cut-off jean shorts. My heart broke a little more. “Of course he can”, I said. “He can go in in cut-offs. It’s fine.” He jumped in, and held onto the side.
The other children came over happily and welcomed another playmate to the water. They could stand in the water on the shallow side, and he soon joined them in their rollicking fun. They had water toys and smiles and laughter. The sun was shining. I was chatting with Joan about non-important things while we soaked up the rays. The boy waddled through the pool to the side, grabbed the edge and looked up at us with shimmering eyes and a wide smile. “This is the best time I’ve ever had!”, he announced. My heart filled with joy and sorrow simultaneously for this child. I was so happy to give him a wonderful day, but so sad that THIS was ‘the best time’ that he ever had. Playing in a motel pool on the side of Route 17. I think it was his first time in a pool. At twelve.
I never saw the boy again. I don’t remember if I even ever asked Joan about him. After we graduated, Joan and I stayed friends for a while, but then our different lives let us down different paths, and as so often happens, we lost touch. I tried to find her a few times, but the most I could find online was that one of her children passed away. I was never able to reconnect.
But, I think of this boy often. I think of how lucky my kids were for a while, how lucky so many of our kids were, even though they and we didn’t know it at the time. I think of how for a brief moment, I wanted to pick this kid up and take him home. Then I lost my own way, and only wanted to make things right for me and mine. Now that I am back, I want to help that boy again…and all those boys and girls who think a day in a pool in a motel on a highway is the best time they ever had.