But I saw Doug’s face just after it happened. I’d been watching straight in front of me, through the big window in the parents’ viewing room. Right out front of my seat was Stephie’s class walking the low beams, real low, just off the floor. They were crossing them on tippy-toe and stepping over bean-bag animals and for three-year olds, I guess that’s a pretty big deal.
The kid that died was over to my right with Doug’s class of six-year old boys. Doug was up on the high end of a wedge. He had the kids crawling up the wedge and doing backward somersaults down it. That one kid apparently ran up the wedge and grabbed at a pair of rings hanging from the ceiling behind it; his hands slipped and he fell off, hitting his head. Like I said, I didn’t see it. But I knew something had happened–out of the corner of my eye I saw Doug lunge and fall back and some of the parents in the room cried out. When I looked over, Doug was off the wedge, crouched over the little boy on the floor; he fell maybe four feet is all. Doug called out for Eliza, panicked I could tell, but after a minute or two, the little boy got up and his dad took him home. He was dead before the day was through.
I read about him in the paper a couple of days later–how he started having seizures and they tried to operate or something but they couldn’t save him. I had this horrible vision in my head of the father watching his son twitch and foam at the mouth and I imagined the fear that must have invaded him as he struggled to get help. How utterly desperate a person must feel watching his child die.
I took Stephie back to the gym the next week, but Doug wasn’t there. And when he did show up the week after, he was withdrawn, his face sallow with dark, tired circles haunting his eyes. He didn’t work with the kids but sat on the edge of the tumble track, hunched over with a far-off look on his face. Then he stopped working–he never went back. He couldn’t handle being around the kids, watching them flip and jump and run. He felt responsible, like it was his fault the boy ran up the wedge; it was his fault the boy tried to grab the rings–his fault. I read in the paper that no charges were filed, how it was just an accident–just one of those things. But you know humans; the law isn’t what makes us innocent or guilty, it’s us, right in our own heads. We condemn ourselves.