The Day that Changed my World

Mar 21, 2020 | 2020 Articles, Community, Maria Ruiz

by Maria Ruiz

Maria often shares stories with us about Santa Barbara history, her travel all over the world, her dogs, and life.

“Help! Help! Someone please.” I heard the screaming right outside my motel room. I had been napping when I heard the woman scream. I jumped up and ran to the door. Flinging it open, I saw the woman in the next door unit running back and forth. In her arms she held a little girl, about a year old. The baby’s arms and legs were just dangling.
When she saw me, she ran over and thrust the baby into my arms. I almost dropped her but managed to grab her as I backed up. “What happened?” I yelled, hoping she would hear me and answer.

“I left her just for a minute. How did this happen? I wasn’t gone more than a minute. I swear.” The woman blurted out. The baby was wet, her hair plastered to her scalp. I realized that whatever had happened had been in the bathtub. I started CPR, tried breathing into the little mouth all the while I was searching in my mind for the lessons I had learned so many months ago. A baby isn’t like an adult. You can’t push down hard. Now what? I was getting frantic. I tried turning the baby over, hoping if she had water in her lungs, it would come out. Some did as I tapped her small, warm back. Over again and push, push, breathe, breathe, push, push. I could hear other people gathering around but I was so busy trying my best, I hoped someone else would call 911.


Maria, Ted and their dogs on the road with their motorhome

I don’t know how long I worked on the child before I heard the sirens break the silence. Then strong hands took over and I saw uniforms. One paramedic put oxygen on the tiny face while the other one was pushing.

Then, after what seemed like an hour, they covered the small body and placed it in the ambulance. I wanted to scream at them to continue trying, but it wasn’t my child. I couldn’t understand why I felt so betrayed, so helpless and at the same time, so angry.

Behind us I could hear the police talking to the crowd. Most had come only after hearing the screams and they melted back into their units, leaving only the mother and me.

She explained that she was giving her daughter a bath when she remembered that she had left the pink stuffed pig in the car and the baby would need that for her nap. She had run down the steps and to the car. She swore it was only a minute. When she got back the baby was floating on her stomach, face in the water. She tried to make her breathe before running out for help.

As she talked, I could see the police and paramedics shake their heads.

Then it was my turn to answer questions. “What is your name?”

“Maria Ruiz”

“Your address?”

“7278 5th St., Santa Monica.”

“What are you doing living in this motel in Brawley?”

“I work for the Highway Department, and we’re going to be doing some work here. I’m here to get everything ready. I’ve been here for three weeks and have maybe two more. I just stay in the motel during the week. If this had been Saturday, I would not be here.”

“At what number can you be reached?”

I gave them my work number and watched the ambulance pull away with the mother and her child. The police looked around as if checking to see they didn’t leave anything, then walked down to their car and were gone.

I stood there, on the balcony, all alone. All the neighbors had retreated into their rooms and closed the doors. I looked up and felt the sun shining on my face. The wet spot where I had laid the baby down was drying quickly and then was gone. It was as if the horrible thing had never happened. I took a deep breath, and then retreated to my room.

Sitting on the bed, I looked around the dingy room. I knew why I was here, and for the hundredth time wondered why the others were here. Why was the mother living in one room with her small child? Why did no one ever talk to each other? Why had I never heard someone say, “Good morning, afternoon, or evening?” But then I realized, I had never even looked at anyone else. I had not said, “Good morning.” We were all living in solitude surrounded by others living in the same dreadful way.

From that day forward, I made it a point to look at people as they passed me. I smiled at co-workers, I said “How are you?” to strangers. The smile back was my reward for the day. The most surprising thing is how fast other people responded and how many people started asking me first. It was as if my work, my neighborhood, even my grocery store were peopled with smiling faces. I even shared a laugh with co-workers.

From the depth of tragedy came a way of sharing that brought joy to many. I can’t be glad it happened that way, but I am that I learned and grew.

Maria Ruiz was born in Santa Barbara, California; her family had been there since the Spaniards first converted the Indians & created small towns. She graduated from the University of San Diego State in 1972 & taught for 8 years before starting her own business. After retiring she began a ten-year odyssey to visit and live in 57 countries around the world. She just recently relocated to California. Her book, I’ll be in the Fourth Grade Forever, can be ordered on Smashwords & Amazon. Her blog can be found at


  1. That’s a powerful story, Maria, thanks for sharing it. It’s particularly poignant right now, but it also makes us realize connecting with people is more important than ever right now – from six feet away, though.

  2. Oh, Maria, how hard this had to have been. What you have done as a result is something we all should be doing-acknowledging others. Being kind. Hugs, VB

  3. Oh my, what a tragedy!
    Breaks my heart.
    Good luck and God’s blessings

  4. M, all I can say is “wow”. What a harrowing experience. Would I have had my wits about me? Probably not. One of the reasons you are my “shero”. Love, V


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.