Issue 202, Fall 2012
Nate Zamost took that week off school. We wondered what he did those long days other than the funeral, which didn’t take more than a few hours. The Zamosts lived in one of those houses just across the fence from Foley’s Pond. Nate’s sister, Barbara—they called her Babs—slid under the chain-link and waddled down to the water. This was in 1983. She was two and a half.
The day Nate came back to school, we refrained from playing Kill the Guy with the Ball at recess. We stood around in a ragged circle on the edge of the basketball court and spoke to each other in polite murmurs. We were a group of guys in junior high who hung out together. It wasn’t like we weren’t capable of understanding. Some of us even had sisters. But instinctively we seemed to get it that our role was not to understand or even to console but, in the spirit of funerals, to act. So we stood there and looked at our shoes and kicked at loose asphalt. Nate went along with it. He played chief mourner by nodding his head slowly. I remember Stu Rothstein finally trying to say something.
“Look, it’s not like it’s your fault,” Stu said. “I mean how could you have known she knew how to slide under the fence?”
Nate looked up from his shoes.
“I taught her.”
What could anybody say to that? Stu took a stab. He’d always been decent like that.
“Well, it’s not like you told her to do it when you weren’t looking.”
Stu didn’t say anything after that. Nobody else did, either. We let Nate’s question hang there, and to this day I don’t know whether he meant it or whether, out of grief, he was assuming even more guilt than he needed to. Like Stu Rothstein, Nate Zamost was a gentle guy. During Kill the Guy with the Ball, he never went for your head; he’d always go for your ankles and take you down easy. It was the rest of us who were more interested in blood than the ball itself. But who’s to say what goes on behind closed doors, between siblings? Nate, like all of us, was thirteen that year. His parents went out for a couple of hours and left him in charge of his little sister.
Remembering it all now, what comes to me most vividly is my private anger toward Nate. Foley’s Pond had always been a secret place and now everybody in town knew all about it. It was wedged inside a small patch of woods, between where Bob-O-Link Avenue ended and the public golf course began. The pond was said to have been created by runoff from the golf course, that it was nothing but a cesspool of chemicals. Proof of this theory was embodied by the large, corrugated drainpipe that hung out over the edge of the pond. Whatever it was that flowed from it didn’t look like water. Once, Ross Berger dove into Foley’s and came up with green hair and leeches on his thighs. Someone shouted, “The sludge supports life!” We all jumped in. It was like swimming in crude oil. A fantastic place, Foley’s—scragged, infested, overgrown, and gloomed long before Nate Zamost’s sister wrecked it. How many mob hits, feet tied to bricks, bobbed and swayed at the bottom of that fetid swamp? All the missing kids in Chicago, milk-carton phantom faces, all, all were dumped into Foley’s.
After school we’d go down there and talk down the waterlogged afternoons. There is something overripe about spring in the Midwest, the wet and green world, the ground itself rotten, oozing, dripping. Foley’s was protected by a canopy of trees. The sun only crept through in speckles. There was nothing beautiful about that pond, even in April, except that it was ours. Foley’s in the rain, the rain smacking the leaves, how hidden we were, talking and talking and talking about God only knows what. Had we been a little older we may have drunk beers or smoked dope or brought girls so they could scream about not wanting to go anywhere near that disgusting water. We were thirteen and conspiratorial and what was said is now out of reach, as it should be.
It took them eleven hours to find her. Foley’s was a lot deeper than anybody had thought. The fire department’s charts turned out to be inaccurate. Police divers had to come up from Chicago. And something else that by now most people may have forgotten and newcomers would have no way of knowing. When they laid Babs on the grass in the dark, Nate Zamost’s mother refused to acknowledge that the mottle of bloated flesh lit up by high-powered flashlights was her daughter, anybody’s daughter. Mrs. Zamost didn’t know Foley’s. Ross Berger was down there twelve seconds, and he came up looking like an alien. She wouldn’t even touch it. I was there, just outside the ring of lights. Mrs. Zamost didn’t scream, just shook her head, and stepped backward into the dark.
Foley’s is a real park now. The Park District manicured it. The trees have been trimmed. There’s a wide, wood-chip path off Bob-O-Link that leads right to it. And they’ve installed tall bird feeders, long poles topped with small yellow houses.