She stood before me, looking so beautiful, my heart ached. The wedding dress accented her slender frame, and her eyes sparkled with joy as she looked up at me. Smiling, I took her hand...
“Mommy? I want to go swimming. Please?”
It was the holiday weekend in July, and I was home after graduating college. With my degree fresh in the frame on the office wall, I was at work at the family business. I know, a lot of folks might think that a business that takes care of landscaping involves little more than a bunch of guys in a pickup truck towing a trailer with a few lawnmowers, a weed trimmer and a blower, but seriously, we did Landscape Design as well as the “mow, blow & go” that so many people thought of. And the majority of our clients were business and industrial complexes. We had 47 guys employed on our crews.
Me? I was in the office, since my degree was in economics and business management. Sure, I started out pulling weeds and pushing a mower, years ago, but now? Ahhhh ... A climate controlled office in the California summer heat was wonderful. I still was in shape though. Not “bodybuilder” shape, just well-toned and muscled for my 5’11” frame. I have the standard dark brown/almost black hair cut short. Never did like facial hair, so clean shaven and brown eyes that seem to work okay without help from glasses.
Oh, who am I? My name is Anton D’Acosta. Sure, that name makes me sound like some “goombah extra” from The Sopranos, but hey, it is what it is. At 23, I was single, had a great job and was enjoying life. I was also at my older sister Regina’s house for the holiday BBQ with her friends. My brother in law, Micah, was manning the grill and trying not to get splashed.
The plea to go swimming came from a small child who was looking forlorn as she saw everyone else having fun.
“Lizzie,” the woman who was a friend of Regina’s, and the childs mother, “I didn’t bring your bathing suit. I’m sorry, sweetheart, but maybe next time, okay?”
I looked over at Micah. “Hey, maybe there is an old suit from one of the kids?” Micah and Regina were several years older than me, and had already started installing the “next generation” of family members into the brood. Respective grandparents were delighted with the chance to spoil the little ones. Micah shrugged and said that if there was anything, it was in the spare bedroom. I asked the childs mother what size suit she wore, and went searching. SUCCESS! I called Lizzie and told her to get changed in the bathroom. I would change in one of the other rooms to help play Lifeguard.
Now, allow me a moment to describe Lizzie. She was slender, with long blonde hair that had shimmering highlights of red and auburn mixed in. Crooked teeth that made her smile all the cuter, and green eyes that blinked behind horn-rimmed glasses. She was maybe 48 inches tall, at most. She came out wearing the bathing suit, and one of the other kids let out a howl.
“She looks like a carrot!”
Yes, it was a 1-piece suit that was bright orange. I had heard the statement as I came outside and caught the child as she tried to run back in. “Hey, where are you going? I want to go swim and need a partner!”
Lizzie looked up at me and blinked back tears. “I don’t want to swim now. I look stupid!”
“No you don’t,” I smiled. Because if you look stupid, so do I!” I dropped my robe so she could see me in MY bright orange swim trunks. “Come on, let’s go!” She took my hand as I lead her to the small shed on the other side of the yard. “Now something I want to know, have you ever been in a pool like this before?” She shook her head ‘no’. “Well, okay. Relax. I was a Lifeguard at college, so I think I can take care of you. But first, we need to go over some rules. Okay?” Lizzie nodded. “Rule number one is; NEVER go near a pool alone. ALWAYS have an adult nearby. Got that?” Lizzie nodded and grinned. “Now, how about we see if we can find you some things to help you swim.
Quickly, I had a life vest and some inflatable arm cuffs on her. “This will help you stay afloat in the water, in case you get tired.”
“What is rule number two?”
“Always swill with a buddy. Today you are stuck with me.” I lifted her up and walked slowly down the steps into the cool water. After a few minutes, she was relaxed enough for me to release her. Soon, she was paddling about and smiling. “So, I am going to guess that ‘Lizzie’ is short for ‘Elizabeth’, right?” She nodded. “Well, I think ‘Elizabeth’ is too beautiful a name to be made short.”
“Mommy and daddy call me that because I’m still small.”
“Well now,” I paused. We were in the 3’ section, so no worries about being too deep. “How about I call you ‘Elizabeta’? That is ‘Elizabeth’ but ‘small Elizabeth’. Is that okay?”
A flurry of giggles was my answer. Taking my hand, Elizabeta asked me to take her around the pool. We stayed clear of most of the horseplay, not wanting her to get frightened.
Okay, I am a goofball. I admit it. So as we enjoyed the water, I started singing...
“I’d like to be, under the sea, in an octopus’ garden, in the shade...”
Elizabeta laughed and asked what song that was. I told her it was by a band called “The Beatles”. “Cool! Sing the rest!”
“We would be so happy, you and me! No one there to tell us what to do! I’d like to be, under the sea, in an octopus’ garden, with you.”
About an hour later, it was time for us to get out so we could eat and relax. I guess I made a friend that day, because the child never left my side. Eventually, as the sun went down and the adults were still talking, a tiny blonde waif fell asleep on my lap. When it was time for the party to end, I found myself carrying Elizabeta to her mothers car and slipping her into the booster seat.
“Thank you, Anton,” she sighed. “I had fun today.”
“So did I, sweetheart. You have your mom bring you over again and we will swim some more.” I gave her a final hug and stood up to see her mother smiling at me.
Elizabeta’s mother was maybe 28 or 29, I was guessing. I also had been informed that she was separated from her husband. Didn’t know the details, didn’t want to know the details. Her name was Rachael and looked like an older version of her daughter. She made a few vague comments that I later realized that she was saying that I was welcome to come over and visit with BOTH of them, should I want to. Swim with Elizabeta and as for Rachael? Things of a more “adult oriented” nature.
Micah made sure to tease me over coffee the following morning. “You know, you looked like you were having fun with Lizzie yesterday! Her mom seemed to be interested in how well you two got along.” I growled a little as he continued. “She’s cute. Both of them. Hey, you could do worse. Instant family!” He slapped the table. “And she is already potty trained!” I wasn’t sure why everyone I knew was always so fixated on me finding someone to settle down with and start a family. Must be “an Italian thing” I guess?
“D’Acosta Landscape Services, this is Anton. How can I help you?”
“Hi Anton!” Regina’s joyous voice answered my inquiry. “Rachael called me and it seems you have made QUITE the impression on Lizzie.” I chuckled to myself. “And she wants to know if they can come over again so you can continue working with Lizzie on teaching her how to swim. What you got planned for later today?”
I told her that my schedule was wide open. Had not planned on anything except calling mom (yes, call me a ‘Loser’, I still lived at home) to see if she wanted me to get anything on the way home after work at the store. Regina told me that she would call mom and let her know not to make me dinner. All I could do was hope that Regina and Rachael hadn’t started “making plans” for me, without my consent.
An excited 6 year old child greeted me when I got to my sisters house. “Anton! COME ON! I want to go swimming and I had to wait FOREVER for you to get here!” (I guess at her age, two hours IS “forever”?) I laughed and told Elizabeta to relax and let me get changed, since I didn’t want to go swimming in my work clothes.
Soon, we were in the water and I was teaching her basic kicks, how to float and how to use her arms properly when swimming. Without the other kids in the pool, she was more relaxed and caught on quickly. Regina and Rachael watched us with smiles of obvious conspiracy. In my heart, I knew they were making “plans”. Rachael went into a small panic when she suddenly realized that she couldn’t see her daughter in the water. Rushing towards the edge of the pool, she was about to start screaming when suddenly, Elizabeta popped up from under the water.
“Mommy! Look! I can hold my breath and swim UNDER the water!” (I had decided that since there was nobody else in the pool with us, to forego the life vest and arm cuffs. I was right there in case she needed assistance.) Elizabeta ducked under the water and pushed off the side and glided out several feet back towards where I was standing. She surfaced into my waiting arms and I hugged her, telling her that she was doing great. (I also reminded her that even if she was getting better at swimming, to never go in a pool alone without an adult.) The adults on dry land clapped and cheered.
.... There is more of this story ...