As much as I would love to forget, I remember every details of the afternoon of June 11, 1993, as if it happened yesterday. Twenty years ago I woke up a naive teenager, but I went to bed irrevocably changed. I was home from college and assumed my job as a babysitter for a local family. At that time in my life, it was the perfect fit. I had taken care of the children, then 6 and 8, since they were born, and they were good kids. Although I had been away at college, we quickly eased into our comfortable routine for the summer.
Because I had known the
family for so long, it was normal for the neighborhood kids to
congregate at the house. I would like to think that it was because I was
such a fun babysitter. In reality they were drawn to the pool and the
never ending supply of Rice Krispie treats that I always kept stocked in
That fateful afternoon we had exceptionally hot
weather. The pool was open and the children, along with some friends,
were splashing and having a great time. The neighborhood children's moms
were also poolside, joining the fun. Among the brood was a little girl
named Rachel. She was the youngest of the pack at only three years old,
but that certainly didn't stop her from trying everything. She was a
Rachel, abiding by the rules by wearing her life vest,
jumped into the pool and squealed with delight. She swam over to the
side and crawled out. Staying on her tummy, she began to pat and play
with the waves coming along the top of the water. At first I didn't
think that this was out of character, but after a few moments I became
alarmed. Her mom knelt next to her to make sure that she was okay.
happened next felt like it took an eternity, but in reality occurred in
a matter of seconds. Rachel's mom let out a blood curdling scream, the
primitive type that only comes from true fear. In a flash I ran into the
kitchen and called for an ambulance. It took me two attempts to solicit
aid from 911--the first call ended up being disconnected. By the time I
hung up the receiver, Rachel was lying on the kitchen table, turning
blue and unresponsive.
Her mom began screaming, "Please Peggy,
don't let my baby die." I took off her yellow Beauty and the Beast life
jacket and began CPR. When I think about it, I can still feel her cool
wet face on mine which is probably a reason I avoid remembering! I only
stopped CPR for a moment to yell at the kids who had congregated in the
kitchen. Wanting to spare them from seeing their friend in such a
vulnerable state, I instinctively screamed at them to leave.
felt like an hour, but an ambulance came within 10 minutes. In my heart,
I know that Rachel had a slight pulse when she was loaded onto the
stretcher and transported to the hospital. On autopilot, I called the
mother of the children I was watching to inform her about the incident. I
retrieved my two little ones, who by now were nearly inconsolable with
fear, and waited for their mom to come home. I was numb.
remember wishing and praying with all my heart that Rachel would be
okay. I couldn't fathom such a sweet little girl dying so quickly. I
thought that she would be okay because she had to be okay. In my
innocence, I couldn't imagine her young life ending so early.
about 7:00 that evening, the telephone finally rang. Rachel had a
congenital heart abnormality and, although she had surgery when she was
an infant, the muscle was weakened. Despite my efforts and my pleads to
the Universe, she died.
When I heard the news, the pain struck to
my very core. I had never felt such anguish, grief and pain. It was
overwhelming and I felt like I couldn't breath. If my mom hadn't been by
my side, I don't know what would have happened.
The next few
weeks were a blur. I knew that the family didn't blame me, but I
couldn't help but blame myself. I did everything "right" but struggled
with the "what if" scenarios for years. The fact that the original call
to 911 became the impetus for a police investigation certainly did not
help! I was contacted by the press and endured a full interview from the
State police. In the end, I was absolved, and the 911 system was
changed to institute a call-back policy when a disconnection occurs.
While I doubt that the few seconds it took me to call back for help
would have made an difference in this case, I have some solace in the
belief that the new policy might have helped other people during the
past 20 years.
What happened with Rachel profoundly changed me. I
learned that sometimes, regardless of how deeply you need something to
happen, it doesn't always work out. I learned that you need to stand up
for the truth, regardless of the naysayers and the pain that you are
experiencing in the moment. I learned that life isn't fair and that
sometimes bad things happen regardless of whether or not you do
I don't talk about that summer, and few of my
friends know what transpired. Even fewer realize the depths of
self-doubt, depression and anguish that I experienced for the months
that followed. It took me a long time to heal. In reality I probably
should have sought counseling, but being young, I thought I could do it
In twenty years the memories have not faded, but I have
gained perspective. Rachel's death and the inquiry that followed changed
me forever. I know that there was nothing that I could have done to
save her, but accepting that a child can die so quickly continues to be
difficult to comprehend. I'm thinking about her today.