The Boy Who Died On the Water Slide Is Not My Son—But He Could’ve Been

caleb schwab feat
Photo: Schwab Family via KSHB-TV

He was not my son. My sons are here with me, safe and sound. I know this. Except when I close my eyes, it is him.

It’s my son who climbs all those stairs in the excitement to ride the tallest water slide in the world. It is my son who holds his brothers hand or high fives him because they are so excited. It is my son who negotiates with the slide attendant to try to ride together only to find out that because of the weight requirements they have to split up. It is my son who says he is a little scared so his brother tells him not to be afraid that he will go down first and wait for him at the bottom. It is my son who climbs in the front of the raft and with all the excitement in the world sets off on this slope. It is my son who has this horrible unspeakable and utterly unimaginable thing happen to his body on the way down. It is my son who lays lifeless at the end while his brother nearby is screaming in horror. He is not my son…. except when I lie in bed at night… he is.

It’s not even fair of me to be feeling this way. It’s so selfish in fact. This feeling that does not quite have a name. It is like anguish, sadness, hopelessness, heartache. It feels like anxiety and unwarranted fear and grief.

It feels like horror.

I can’t stop myself from thinking about it.

My daughter went to that park three days after it opened back up and there was a large red stain all the way down the slide, after the second hill. There in the open, glaring. How callous of them. How could they not have put up a tarp to hide it? To hide the place where this horrific thing took place.

It was not my son. Except when I close my eyes, it is my son. It is all of our sons. On any day, any combination of things that we do could put us in harms way.  On a car ride, on a bike to his friends house, on a playground at school. What an intricate web of things had to happen for it to be this boy, on this day at precisely this moment. If one person cuts in front of he and his brother it does not happen this way. If he stops to go pee first before climbing the stairs, this does not happen. If the ride just before took two seconds longer, this does not happen. It all came together just so… just so that this awful thing happened on a day that he should have remembered forever as one of the best of his life.

His parents trusted him to go off with his big brother, they had younger kids to watch out for. They probably said things like “Have fun.” and “Be Safe.” and “Stay with your brother.”  They had every reason to think things were perfectly fine. Normal. Safe. His mother must be going over and over in her head all the things leading up to it and whether or not she could have changed the outcome.

She could not have. It is not her fault.

His mother, oh god. I want to go to her and hold her head in my lap and tell her to cry for as long as she wants to. A day, a week, a month, a lifetime. Cry until she has no more tears. It won’t matter because that kind of pain doesn’t fade with anything but decades. I want to help her clean her house and do laundry and take care of her other boys so that she can just lie in her bed until she feels like she can stand up again.

He was not my son, he was her son.

I can’t even fathom her pain. I want to tell her I’m sorry over and over while petting her hair while she cries. I’m so sorry.

If my heart hurts like this, imagine how she must feel. If I can’t shake this dread, imagine how she must feel.

It was not my son, but my heart bleeds for her. She lost hers.

I’m so sorry.


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Leslie Lambeth-Kohlmeyer
Leslie Lambeth-Kohlmeyer is a native Kansas Citian,  who lives in the heart of downtown. She is a Graduate of UNCW ("A very long time ago" she says.) Currently she is working for Academie Lafayette Charter School.  She is a mom of three and a wife of one. She has this to say about herself: I'm a writer, mother, artist juggler, comedian. I write because things are in me that I need to get out. Writing is something I can't seem to ever escape, it's in my nature and my DNA. The only thing rivaling it is motherhood. My three babies are my joy. My husband and I cherish each moment we are given with these people and we cherish all that they are becoming. Bring their mother is such a privilege. I write mostly about my children and what it means to be their mom. All of the crazy, funny, and sometimes difficult things that come along with being a parent.