I nearly drowned once.
Well, maybe that sounds too dramatic. I didn’t actually go under. I was in a situation in which I could have drowned. That seems like a more accurate description.
When I was about 10, my father brought us to a river. It was spring, and the water was high. I don’t remember what exactly we were doing there, as I don’t believe it was fishing season. I think, in hindsight, my father got sick of having 4 kids in the small house and ended up bringing us to places like this just to get us out of his hair. On this day, we also brought our neighbor, Mike, who was 2 years older than me.
Like I said, the water was high and I do recall my father telling us not to go in it. And then we were left to amuse ourselves while he did something else.
This is a true story, by the way.
We ended up across the river. This was a rocky section and the river split into smaller streams across the rocks before convening over 20-foot falls into a deep, dark pool. The water here had a strong, invisible current that my father had warned us about. We were playing on the rocks and began sliding down them into the edge of the pool.
Somehow, all at once, three of us became caught in the current of the deep water. I was the furthest out. In a panic, I tried to cling to my brother and he kept shoving me off of him. He was a strong swimmer and was able to fight the current and got back onto the shore, as did Mike. My step-brothers watched from the rocks as I was carried out into the churning water.
I am not a good swimmer. I hate getting water in my ears and up my nose, so I learned to dog paddle with my head arced way above the water. In the river, the pull of the water was eerily strong – I had to kick and kick just to keep my head up, and I had no control over where I was going. I clearly remember thinking that my sneakers were making it harder for me to stay afloat because they had filled with water and were quite heavy. Afterwards I wondered why I didn’t kick them off in the water.
Somehow in the middle of my struggle, it suddenly occurred to me to float on my back. The backfloat was the one thing I could do with relative ease. So I flipped onto my back and did some deep breathing. My brother yelled “Yes! That’s good! Keep doing that!” So I did.
My stepbrother Keith ran to get my father while my other stepbrother Ken threw an inner tube into the water. FYI – this was a real tire inner tube, the kind that can get hot as molten lava in the sun. My father, not a good swimmer himself, had to make his way down the edge of the river to the pool of water – I imagine this took a little while due to the rocky shore. The inner tube floated in a slow circle around me, while I maintained the backfloat until my father shouted to me, telling me I was probably close enough to the other side to swim. I was eventually able to stand up, and safely walked out of the water.
The whole drive home I shivered under a thin towel, listening to my father berate us all for not listening while waves of guilt washed over me. Now I wonder if I am the one who should have been feeling guilty.