The incident with the dog I wrote about last was just one of many times I faced death head on as a child. In a way, as I look back on my life, I am sometimes astounded that I ever made it out alive. Yet, here I am. A friend once told me that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and I relate that to the fact that I am a very strong willed adult.
When I was a child we lived in a small red house on the backside of a pond. The pond was not very large and was owned by the city. On the opposite side of the pond was a park and public swimming pool. In the winter when the pond froze over people would go there to ice skate. A small shack housed a big stone fireplace and from the shack they would sell instant hot chocolate.
On hot summer weekends early on, my mother would offer to take me to the public pool. Sometimes I was even allowed to invite a friend or two. It had to be a few summers after the dog incident because by this point I had learned to swim, which I had done at the Girls Club and then the Y and I could now jump into the deep end and swim to the ladder. This I found to be the most amazing and liberating thing I had learned in all my young life.
We made the long trek by foot around the pond to the pool early in the day. Eager to show my friend who had come along with us how I could swim in deep water, I convinced her and my mother to sit by the deep end of the pool. No longer was I a “kiddy-pooler.” My friend could swim quite well, but had never done so in water over her head. I convinced her it was the same deal just that you couldn’t touch the bottom.
To prove my point, I offered to go first and standing with my toes just over the edge, I took a deep breath and leaped into the water. The water was cool and at first was a shock as I plunged underneath. I burst above the surface, wiped my eyes and yelled back for my friend to try. While she stood at the edge I made my way to the ladder and climbed back up to do it again.
Clearly, not wanting me to show her up, my friend stood upon the edge took a deep breath, held her nose and jumped.
She wasn’t ready and I immediately realized she was struggling. Even though she had come to the surface, she had begun to panic because she could not touch bottom. She began to gasp and yell for help.
The lifeguards were no more than thirteen or fourteen and clearly had not anticipated having to really save someone in distress. They came to the edge of the water and tried to reach down to my friend but she was too far away and to panicked to actually swim, though I was shouting for her to do so quite loudly.
Seeing as the lifeguards were of no use, I jumped into the pool to help my friend. I came to the surface and wiping my eyes found my bearings. I then dove back under with the intention of pushing my friend from her behind so she could better reach the lifeguards.
This is the first no-no in saving someone and I will tell you why. At first, my attempt seemed to work. Kicking as hard as I could I pushed on her butt from underneath trying to get her back to the edge. As I began to run out of air, I tried to come back up to the surface to catch my breath with the intention of going back down to push again.
As my friend panicked she wrapped her arms around me pushing me further down instead. I tried to untangle myself from her so I could get air as by this point my lungs were starting to burn. She refused to let go and try as I might I could not get to the surface.
Perhaps I was too young to have my life flash in front of me, but I do recall the pinpoints of light and that it was becoming hard for me to try and free myself.
At the very last moment before I was sure I would pass out, my friend was lifted off of me. I kicked to the surface gasping for breath and quickly made my way to the ladder holding on for dear life.
Above me my friend had been lifted to safety by the lifeguards and a group of people had surrounded her trying to comfort her. Clearly, I had been forgotten down below, me, the one who almost died.
Once my head seemed to clear enough, I climbed back up the ladder and stood aside while my friend was showered with attention. Two older girls walked up to me and patted me on the back. They smiled at me like they were impressed and for a moment I felt pretty good.
My mother had never left the blanket she had laid out for herself. After the crowd dispersed we walked over to her and she asked if we were okay.
“Mom, I almost drowned.” I protested.
“Oh, of course you didn’t.” She replied. “If you were really drowning, I would have saved you.”
I looked upon my mother with utter shock and realized that she did not live in the reality I did. Either that or having me drown would be a convenient way to get out of the responsibility for raising me, something I came to understand later on in life was not something she relished.
After that incident, my friend refused to stay on the deep end and neither one of us wanted to go back in the water. Frustrated with us because we had been there less than ten minutes, my mother picked up the blanket and we made the long trek back around the pond to home.