The Purple Dragon

The Purple Dragon

I recently unearthed a photo that helped me put a past incident into perspective. I offer this story for any who has ever over-inflated an incident without accurate recollection to put it in perspective.


It’s summertime in Northern Virginia. At 5 years old, I’m too young to realize that summer means no school. To me, summer means trips to the pool with my siblings. As the youngest of 6, there’s a rotation of siblings I get to go to the pool with. Today, it’s with my sister Jan and brother Earl. 

We walk hand in hand the short distance to the community pool. The smell of the hot asphalt makes me glad I’m wearing my little Hawaiian-print flip flops. If I was barefoot, my brother would save me from the melting magma of the roadway with a piggy back ride. Today, with my feet protected, I am flanked by my sister and brother, my little hands in theirs. Every time we come to a curb, they swing me by my arms helping me over the ledge. I’m pretty sure I could make it over the curb just fine, but I like being the baby of the family, protected by the sibling security squad.

My reward for the extra paces my little legs have to do to keep up is the summer scent of pool chlorine and the sounds of cheerful screams of swimmers already in the water.

We settle down poolside and unpack our bags. Mine is really just an empty backpack so I can carry it and look like my bag-toting companions. Jan stealthily pulls something from her bag, teasing me with little peeks, “Michelle! I brought you a surprise!”

She’s always showering me with cool gifts, making me feel even more special and loved than my whole family already makes me feel.

Jan strings out my imagination and impatient anticipation, using Earl to block my view while she lures my surprise from the lair of her bag.  Finally,  she unleashes my surprise right there in the enchanted forest of the community pool.

It is an inflatable pool ring.

It is a dragon.

It is horrifying.

The entire dragon is the color of dried blood, presumably from its last meal, which could only have been another unsuspecting 5-year-old. 

The serpent’s body is a suffocatingly-restrictive ring from which even a sorcerer couldn't escape. Jutting upward is the beast’s 6-foot-long neck and head. His incisors the obvious utensils with which the dragon devours his prey. 

My sister caters to the dragon’s hunger just as the lifeguard’s shrill whistle signals that it is the adults-only swim time. She casts an evil spell of imprisonment upon me, tethering me to the savage reptile and shoving me into the middle of the nearly-empty pool.  My brother and sister point and laugh at me from their refuge of dry land. 

The pool’s chlorine desalinates my tears as they break the levee of my eyes. I scream deafening pleas for help that fall on, well, deaf ears. 

Nearby responsible adults do not notice my distress. It seems I am but a jester in their pool of mockery.

I black out for the rest of the torture session, the grateful beneficiary of memory suppression. The next thing I remember is the forced march back home, my backpack no longer empty. It is now a rucksack, laden with the very enemy that slaughtered my pool experience. The beast has also started a disintegration of my perception of the relationship between my siblings and me. We are not the equals I thought us to be. I am the target of their aggression, each attack another battle in the overall war against this new invader of their once-perfect life. 

That blood red devil’s wicked ambush reminds me that I am no one’s “plus one” choice to the family party. This single trip to the pool is a formative immersion into the reality of my sibling hierarchy. 

I submerge myself in that truth as I wade toward adulthood. I fight to untether that memory’s significance from a healthy relationship with my siblings, but the undertow of that pool experience threatens to drown me.

One day, decades away from that influential summer,  floating in volumes of old family photos, I discover a lifeline. 

I hold a photo of a younger (and much cuter) me, clearly ready for a trip to the pool with my family. Tiny Hawaiian-print flip flops on my feet and an oversized backpack hanging from my body’s small frame, the open zipper revealing the bag’s empty cavern. 

The most deceitful detail of the photo is in the arms of the younger me ... a detail that capsizes the current that has narrated much of my life.

My little arms lovingly clutch “Dray Dray,” my light purple dragon smiling in preparation for an afternoon in the pool with his petite princess. Seeing Dray Dray breaks a self-constructed dam, unleashing a flood of positive sibling memories that don’t involve sister-abuse or a near-drowning. I had spoiled the memory of a great summer at the pool because I dwelled on a few moments when I was frightened. 

Holding the undeniable proof in my hand, it dawns on me: this isn’t the first time I have misremembered an event from my past, blown it out of proportion and harbored negative emotions toward the people involved in the heinous misrepresentation. 

I am grateful for the photo. It has facilitated a reunion with Dray Dray and proved me to be an inaccurate reporter. It also forces me to review my history. How often have I over-inflated an incident from the past without accurate recollection to put it in perspective? 

Sometimes, we just have to search for those photos and slay those dragons that threaten to drown us.