Both where we sat and down below, the water cascaded and fell into small pools, where kids in swimsuits were splashing around. I watched as some younger parents nervously corralled their toddlers away from the rocks’ edges, feeling grateful that my husband and I were out of that stage—that our kids, at 6 and 8, could navigate their physical space with more confidence. Don’t get me wrong, I was still terrified as I saw my two boys jump between the slippery rocks. “No running,” I said again and again. “Stay away from all those edges.”
But I soon relaxed and we were all having fun, splashing in the pools, my kids laughing big belly laughs as my husband dunked his head under the cold running water. The stress of the previous few months seemed to melt away. And there had been plenty. It’s 2020 after all—no one has been untouched by pain, grief, or anxiety. But seconds after I reached that place of contentment, every fear I’d ever had rose to the surface.
I turned around and saw my son Wyatt sitting down between two boulders in a fast-moving stream of water. I yelled at him to get out. He yelled back something that I couldn’t hear, and then he disappeared over the edge.
All I remember from the moments after is screaming, over and over, like a prayer, “Jesus Christ, somebody help my son!” But I didn’t even know what help he needed, because for several seconds I couldn’t force myself to look down.
My husband was already sprinting down the rocks. I finally looked. Wyatt was sitting up—he was alive. My biggest fear was erased. As I held my younger son, Jed, close, I heard another woman scream—she and her husband and two kids had been near us on the high ledge. She was hysterical, yelling at her husband that they needed to go. “That child just went over the waterfall!” she shouted. “We are leaving!” They walked away immediately and didn’t even look back to see if our child was okay.
It was about 12 feet from the top of the waterfall to the pool below, which was studded with huge rocks. Wyatt had fallen on his back, straight onto the rocks. That’s what Lisa told us.
We didn’t know her name was Lisa at that point. All we knew was that while everyone else looked on from a distance, too afraid or unbothered to help, this petite brunette woman with a mask didn’t hesitate. In fact, by the time I had climbed down the rocks and my husband had pulled Wyatt out of the water, she had already called 911. She told me that she was a nurse. She gave Wyatt a red, white, and blue striped towel to put under his head. She implored us to keep him still and on his back in case he had injured his spinal cord. I finally had the wherewithal to ask her name. “Lisa,” she said. “My name is Lisa and I’m not leaving you.”
I knew she was a mother. I saw her kids standing a few feet back. I couldn’t see her face. Just her eyes. But she looked at me so deeply, like she was trying to take every bit of energy, love, and strength in her body and push it out through the only part of her face I could see. I held onto that energy like a rope that could pull us to safety—to some other place and time where my son wasn’t lying on rocks, crying in pain over injuries we tried not to imagine.