Most of my anecdotal memories from childhood, while funny, include some form of serious injury or (what my small-child’s mind interpreted as) trauma. The tale below is an example of a perceived near death experience.
The Time I Almost Drowned
This one I remember happening when I was seven or eight, because I distinctly recall telling my second grade teacher the story shortly after it happened. But my dad swears I was only five or six. My skewed sense of my own childhood timeline seems to make me older for everything.
Anyway, when I was a child we didn’t get to spend a whole lot of quality time with my dad. That’s partly because the man worked like a maniac in hot, sweaty blue-collar jobs to make sure we always had enough to eat. That’s also partly because my dad is an introvert like me, and my mom can be really overbearing most of the time. If I’d been him, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to spend much time at home, either. But when we did get quality Dad-time, it was doing the outdoorsy things he found enjoyable, such as hauling firewood, loading the truck up with watermelons at the watermelon farm, going “hunting” (in which we kids mostly just wandered in the woods and played in the deer stands; I don’t remember once holding a gun or shooting at furry animals during these hunting excursions), or my favorite (layered richly with sarcasm, that was), fishing.
There was a good-sized lake just outside the tiny town I grew up in, and several of the more affluent families at our church had houses right off the lake. One of these families would often let us come over with Dad and fish off the end of their pier. Most of the time, we kids would fish until we got bored—which happened rather quickly, because fishing is really boring; I sometimes wondered if it was just an excuse to force three small children to sit quietly for long periods of time—and then we’d go back to the house and jump on their trampoline to our little hearts’ content.
As many of these childhood tales go, the inciting incident for this particular story is that I had to go potty. And wildly imaginative child that I was, I was afraid to walk to the house by myself—specifically to walk back down the pier. Who knew what sort of sharks (I think someone had mistakenly allowed me to watch a clip from Jaws) or other maritime monsters might be dwelling in the lake? The water was brown and murky, so you couldn’t see through it like at the pool. And if you couldn’t see into it, it very well might be home to a monster.
Adorable child I was, it wasn’t hard to get the man who owned the house, Mister Steve (unless they were a teacher, we usually called adults “Mister/Miss” and their first name when I was growing up) to walk me back up the pier toward the house.
Now, the pier was getting pretty old. Some of the boards creaked and moaned when you walked down them; some of them had little chucks of wood missing. But none of the missing pieces were big enough to compromise the strength of the wood or their connection to the small red piping that ran along the sides. For the most part, the pier was still structurally sound.
Or so we thought.
Mister Steve and I started our trek down the mile-long pier (to my paranoid child’s mind, at any rate), him holding my hand and walking beside me. I stepped tentatively from board to board, keeping my eyes on the shore, counting the steps until I’d be safely back on dry land.
Funnily enough, if I’d been brave and gone back on my own this might not have happened. My weight was still much too slight to have broken the weak board when I stepped on it. It might have just creaked or moaned, and I’d have simply run the rest of the way down the pier to safety. But when coupled with Mister Steve’s weight (and he was not a heavy man), the board cracked in twain beneath us.
My little body somehow twisted to the side, probably from me instinctively grasping for the red piping along the edge of the pier. But I was further toward the edge than I thought; instead of grabbing the piping with my hands, I shot past it and fell into the water, my head on one side of the piping and my feet on the other. I was bent over the pipe at the waist, flailing my short arms and legs in the murky water as I tried to right myself. My head and most of my torso were completely submerged; I was sure a shark was going to get me—or at the very least that I would drown.
As much as I struggled, I couldn’t get myself out of the water. After some time, I became resigned to my fate: I was drowning. I was never going to get to play with my dolls again. I’d never again snuggle with my teddy. I was going to die right then and there, in the murky brown water with my butt in the air.
Then Mister Steve grabbed me by the waistband of my pants and hauled me up. He set me back on the pier, looking me full in the face. Though the water came all the way up to the bottom of the pier, it was shallow enough for him to stand—not even up to his waist. I’d been submerged for less than ten seconds, and only that long because I’d been flailing too much for him to get a hold of me.
My dad thoroughly denies this; he says they dried me off a bit and put me in the cab of the truck. But the way I remember things, I was still soaking wet when we went home—with me in the bed of the pickup, shivering in the wind.
Mister Steve and his family very soon replaced that pier. But I am still petrified to walk down one alone.