Panic Retreat

I recently had a panic retreat. This is when you almost have a panic attack, but somehow you withdraw just before it overtakes you. Like any retreat, you get the heck out and scurry back to safe territory.

The turning point came when I decided to call in contractors to demolish the family swimming pool. This beautiful sculptured body of water just outside the family room has seen decades of squealing infants, frolicing teenagers, splashing adults and treading seniors. I planned recently to drain it, bury it and cover the ground with a new lawn and flowers.

After the contractor’s first visit, I emailed our daughters to bounce off my thinking. They’ve seen their dad make good and bad decisions over the years. They know their energy-filled mom. They understand the stress it causes to care for Barb and handle the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. They agreed, if Dad wants to remove some responsibility by demolishing the pool, so be it. Trying to talk him out of it could cause even more stress. But I could hear something in Beth’s voice. Her boys had grown up in this pool. She had hopes that her brand new boy, Ethan, would spend time in it, too.

Following these talks, my thoughts slowly turned from current pressures to memories of past events. Our friend David, who built the pool in the 80’s, had insisted that the deep end be nine feet just because of my height. Kids and grandkids grew up with a special thrill for the deep end. Scores of young people from Beth’s youth group had plunged from the upper patio into the water. One couple even held the wedding on the patio, their friends packed throughout.

For more than 20 years, until he retired, Steve took care of the pool every week. He became a trusted friend. This is uncommon in Florida, where pool guys and lawn guys come and go. Steve had witnessed all the changes in our family as the years went by. Every week he held long chats with Barb, before this horrible disease took hold.

I gave Steve a call and told him about my plans to demolish the pool. It was relaxing just to hear his voice. We reminisced about the changes in both our lives and the central role the pool had played in mine. He talked with me about unintended consequences and encouraged me to reconsider the plans and come up with an alternative. And it is exactly what I did.

My alternative was to hire competent people to restore and maintain the pool at optimum level, as if it were being used by people every day. I began by telling the contractor I was postponing the demolition. I researched pool maintenance companies until I found Paul, who did mostly commercial pools. There was no water in the pool when Paul came out to look things over. As we talked, I knew I had the right man. He agreed to care for the pool completely and to keep a watchful eye on its operation, alerting me to any problems. He would take over as soon as I refilled the 25 thousand gallons of water.

While the pool was filling, I called Dick, who had repaired any pump, filter or plumbing issues the pool had over the years. Dick and Steve were lifelong friends and his pool company was always busy. When he got out of his truck, he looked as young as he did ten years ago. We hugged, reminisced and examined the job. Dick took pictures of the control center, explained his plans for fixing it and said he’d call me in a day. Within a week, water was flowing swiftly through a reworked, restored and refurbished control center.

Paul comes weekly with his fancy commercial equipment to keep the water pure and clean. He adjusts the valves so the flow will include the spa on the upper deck. If I don’t see him, he sends me emails to let me know the status of the pool. He is God sent.

As for me, after I got rid of about ten large clay pots of wilted plants, I pressure washed the deck for the first time in years. Several times each week, I hose it down to get rid of surface dirt. On hot days, after working in the yard or doing some maintenance work on the fence, I take off my shoes and jump into the pool, fully clothed. It is glorious.

As I look out over the pool from the air-conditioned family room, the overwhelming panic of responsibility has retreated to regroup its forces and to wait, to lurk. Instead, I hear the distant squeals of excited grandchildren. I hear Hunter’s watchful barking as he runs the edges of the pool, guarding his herd. I see my friend Mark tossing Jeremy into the shallow end. I glimpse Barb and me holding each other and kissing during a late evening swim.

And just over a month ago, I watched Beth’s 10 month old son, Ethan, wriggle and giggle in the arms of his 18 year old brother, Chris. It seemed like old times. –lg