Emergency personnel were called to the harbor Thursday afternoon after a man drowned while attempting to rescue a child.

He was forty, or thirty-five, or eighteen, or sixty. His hair was fair, or black, or brown, or maybe he was balding. Maybe he had a tattoo of an anchor on his calf, a heart on his bicep, or words across his back, or maybe he had a scar from having his appendix removed when he was young. He could have been tall, short, stocky, lean; he could have had two jobs or none. Before the police release his name, he could have been anyone. We only know he drowned, and he drowned trying to save a child.

 

The victim’s name was reportedly Crescencio Ramos Ramirez, 33.

A person has many names. The name we are given at birth, and also the names we accumulate throughout our lives, the names that different people call us by. His name was Crescencio Ramos Ramirez. With that name comes others: he was a father; he was an employee; he was a son to parents who live in Mexico. He was an immigrant. He was a hero.

 

Witnesses say that Ramirez had gone to the aid of a 9-year-old girl who was struggling in the water.

The names the paper gives don’t have adjectives—was he a loving father, a dedicated employee? I like to think so. These are adjectives that describe the type of person who jumps into the ocean to save a little girl.

But not all names get adjectives. Some names have connotations, and these days, the name of immigrant has a heavy one. The article about Crescencio is small, just local news; but in the national headlines and bylines and interviews there are voices saying in a thousand different ways that immigrants are bad. Our president wants to build a wall, an impenetrable boundary between us. He wants to deport immigrants who have built entire lives here. He believes they are murderers and rapists. He believes they’re stealing jobs. He believes they are stealing our dreams, as though they had none of their own.

He does not say that they are people, with names and families and stories. He does not speak of heroes.

 

Like many other immigrants that come to the U.S., Ramirez was looking for a better life for himself and his family.

The word fathom was originally used as a unit of anatomical measurement for depth: a fathom measures from the tip of one index finger to the tip of the other with your arms spread wide. Fishermen measured the length of an anchor’s rope in fathoms, one stretch of rope between fingers to the next until the anchor hit bottom.

To fathom is also to understand, but we most often use it in the negative: I cannot fathom what it feels like to drown. I cannot fathom what it feels like to leave my home for a place that does not want me to call it home. I cannot wrap my arms around it; it is too big to hold, too deep to measure.

 

Ramirez is survived by his two children, Angel, 6, and Bryan, 3, who witnesses say were with their father on the beach.

The witnesses tried to shelter the children from the scene. Still, his sons would have seen between the legs of grown-ups the way their father’s face turned blue, the foamy water pouring out of his mouth. They would have heard the hollow thump of hands against his chest.

How will his children carry that memory? Their arms are too small, the moment too wide. They will hear that their father was a hero, but they will come to know him only through his absence.

 

A GoFundMe account has been set up for $15,000 to pay for the return of his remains to his native Mexico for burial, and to support his family.

It seems like so little. These words, trying to stand up against it, slip underwater. The ocean swells and recedes like a heartbeat with no memory and we’re caught in the currents too. Every day, the headlines are rewritten. We forget all the ways that people can be heroes. We forget the ones who disappear into the sea.

When you turn the page, your hand quietly buries the past—listen to the whisper of a name, now fading.

 

© Kelly Grogan
[This piece was selected by Valerie Waterhouse. Read Kelly’s interview]