The first time I almost drowned (c. 1984), I was reveling in those heady preschool days of childish enthusiasm and youthful naïveté. My mother had enrolled me in swimming lessons in a neighbor's pool. I remember only the following horrifying details:
Scratching desperately at the tiled side of the pool, I watched tranquil shafts of sunlight waver in the water. I tried to cram my stubby fingertips into the grout of the pool's tile, trying--and failing--to find some sort of handhold. Alone and sinking downward, a shrill series of screams left my young mouth--but they were lost as soon as they were uttered, transformed into mute bubbles. An eternity later, the heavy water darkened around me. My limbs grew weary from frantic windmilling; my lungs ached; my eyes closed, surrendering.
As I choked and sputtered with the sting of chlorine, a hand reached down into the shadowy depths and yanked me upward to the bright air. Gasping and shivering, I realized my savior had been not my mother--who was sitting off to the side of the pool, reading--but the pool's owner, Jeanine.
"Mom!" I stammered. "Jeanine just saved me from drowning! I was sinking but she grabbed me an--"
"Bullshit," my mom said, in that kind way only a sympathetic mother can calm her nearly dead child.
But I knew what I knew, and no matter how many times my mother attempted to assuage me with firm repeats of "Bullshit, Erik" on the drive home, I still know it. Were it not for Jeanine--who later gave me some gum, too--I'd probably still be floating in that backyard pool.
The second time (c. 1990) was after I'd been forced to enlist in the Boy Scouts (again by my mother). Harboring a justified and severe distrust of bodies of water, I was one of three boys at camp who couldn't swim.
But that didn't stop the camp counselors, who heartlessly tossed us three lame ducks into the middle of an ice-cold mountain lake. Floundering, we futilely attempted to grab onto each other. Most of my vision was clouded by violent splashes and panicked flesh. But I could still make out the other members of Troop #351, laughing and pointing from the shore. Their cruel taunts echoed in the pristine Rocky Mountain air.
Eventually, somebody tossed us a rope and we pulled ourselves to shore. I'm pretty sure my Scoutmaster made some snide comment about how I wouldn't be getting the swimming merit badge anytime soon. And, I'm pretty sure I proved him right. I quit the Boy Scouts shortly afterward.
Still, I did learn two things from my drowning experiences--like how it sucks to drown, and how you can never trust anybody to save your drowning ass, even if you're an adorable little kid.