‘She is a fish’, Tom had said to Lea one day, looking at their little girl, Marine.
Marine had loved being under water since she was a baby. From the moment she was born, Marine’s bath was the most extraordinary moment. Marine would not mind at all having her head under water. She would open her eyes, her face covered by water, and giggle. When she was old enough to sit and move her body she would roll over laughing face in the water. Baby sitters would panic. But Marine never seemed to bother. She did not appear to miss the air. When she was one she would lie in the water, eyes wide open, and blow bubbles, smiling.
‘Have her take swimming lessons" was the advice given by the pediatrician when Lea first consulted when Marine was 6 months old.
And she did. Marine knew how to swam instinctively but what she preferred was going under water. The teachers found it a little spooky to have to drag her from the bottom of the pool.
When she was 18 months, in summer, Tom and Lea took her to the large village pool for the first time. Marine loved it. She never seemed happier, her little body immerged, her large blue eyes staring at the swimmers around her. The life guard pulled her out a few times, worried to see this little girl who seemed stuck at the bottom of the pool, staring at the sky. But she was fine, happy, and the water was her universe. She did not seem to worry about breathing. She never was in distress.
On land, Marine did not speak much. She did not interact with others except with her her dog Bernard and Tom and Lea her parents. She seemed happy enough.
The doctors and therapists consulted concluded that she was "on the spectrum of autism".
At school she sat at her small table, drawing in silence, and waited for the day to pass. She drew pools and ponds. She smiled and dreamt. At 7 she could hardly write her name nor read; but she could swim a mile and dive and remain underwater for what seemed an unnatural long 5 minutes, smiling, eyes wide open.
Marine came to life in the water. When she was 5, Tom and Lea moved south and built a pool where she would spend most of the day when not at school.
Lea worried about Marine's future. Tom worried about Marine's present. He quit his job as a sales rep for a car dealership to home school her. He ended up spending the day in the pool with her. Lea wrote copy for a paralegal web site and worked from home some days. She would watch them play in the water. They were happy. They had a simple life. They lived disconnected from the world of school reports, parent teacher conferences, birthday parties and sports clubs. They had no family and no friends in the area. At 9, Marine could read simple books. Talk a few words when she felt like it. She swam and dove and water was her universe. She was funny and playful and cuddly. Most days they thought she was the best thing that happened to them.
‘What are we going to do with you Marine?’ Tom would say, half laughing. Marine was 10, she would giggle and jump in the pool. She was tanned and muscular. She had long dark hair Lea would detangle every evening, singing songs to her.
Marine cried when Bernard died of old age. Her best friend for 10 years. Lea wondered if they should buy another dog. They did not.
It happened when they went to the sea for the first time. The story in the local paper was that a 10 year old autistic girl drowned because of a rip current. But Lea and Tom knew Marine was just exploring the deep blue ocean, where she belong.