One time, I almost died. It was the only time in my life that I can remember consciously thinking to myself that my life was going to end, and I was only 4 at the time. I was not a risk-taking kind of child, but I was the kind that had so much confidence that I could do anything anyone else could do if I tried. I was shy, but always willing to try things.
At this point in my life, I was taking swimming lessons at Marshall Center in Vancouver, Washington. I had just started learning how to be under the water holding my breath, and push out air to make bubbles in the water. This particular day, I was at a family friends’ house with my family. A bunch of us kids were playing in their pool down below, while the adults were on the balcony deck area cooking burgers. The pool was one of those pools that had the same depth all the way to the end, it must have only been about 4 feet. 4 feet however, is quite deep for a 4 year old.
I remember watching my big sister and all the other kids play in the pool and laugh and swim around. In my brain, as I sat on that big floaty in the pool (you know the lounge chair with the big air pocket holes in them), I told myself that If I just rolled off the floaty I would be able to swim. I mean, if all of the other kids were doing it, then I should definitely be able to do it too. It didn’t look that hard.
So, in a matter of seconds, while the adults were up on the giant square balcony barbecuing and the happy-go-lucky big kids were splashing in the pool, I curiously rolled off the edge of that floaty.
As the water went over my head, plugging my ears, the laughter and murmurs of the adults and kids became faint hums and weird bubbling sounds. I opened my eyes to see the blurry colors and shapes that only chlorinated water can provide. I moved my arms and legs like the big kids did, trying to bring myself back up to the floaty, and I realized at that moment that I wasn’t going to be able to do it. No matter how hard I tried. As I searched for all the ways it could be possible to push myself back up to the surface of the water, I discovered that I had no experience or understanding of how to do it. I accepted that I was indeed not going to make it back up.
I wasn’t scared. I was 4.
I was curious and I didn’t really fully understand all that that came with death. I remember not knowing what was going to happen next. There wasn’t much to fear. I knew, that at that moment I was about to stay under the water forever. As I looked up I could only see the hue of the bright blue sky and hazy white clouds through the foggy lenses of my eyes. I couldn’t hold my breath any longer, and started to open my mouth to breath a little, and remember inhaling water through my nose and feeling it go into my lungs. I remember thinking to myself, even at 4, “Oh no, Mom is going to be so sad.” And with that, one arm, then another, clutched my stupid little 4 year old body, and in a whoosh I was above water, coughing and gasping for air.
I blinked the water out of my eyes, looked up at Star, my big sister, as she asked, “Are you OK?” I must have told her yes, because from what my little 4 year old brain can remember, everyone and everything went back to normal. I got back on that floaty later, I wasn’t afraid of the water, because I couldn’t understand death, but I knew I couldn’t roll off it again.
I don’t think anyone ever actually knew how close I was to dying then. How relaxed I was at welcoming my own death. How it was just a curious mistake. To this day, I don’t know how my sister, at 7 years old, was responsible enough to keep her eye on me, but she was. I think deep down I trusted that my life would always be OK because she was there to keep her eye on me.
I’m blessed to still have that sister.
Star has been my friend, someone I could trust, rely on, and share my life with. She has always been thoughtful and kind when it came to our relationship. In college, she would write me letters and send cards all the time. And even though I might have seemed like the kind of person to not care, SHE knew how much I loved personal little notes and cards. I don’t know if she knows how much those cards and little “I’m thinking of you” presents meant to me during my freshman year of college. But it was during a time that a high school classmate of mine went missing. It was the first time in my life something like that happened to someone that I knew well. It was devastating. It was the only time in my life that I lost a lot of weight from the very weight of my own feelings. It was a time when I needed little “Happy Halloween” cards and personal messages rolled up in plastic bottles sent to me in the mail just like that.
We’ve been through a few rough patches here and there when honesty wasn’t a top priority, but I would be lying if I said we never came back around. If I had a beer in my hand, I’d lift it up and say, “Here’s to being honest for the rest of our lives!” Happy belated birthday, (I meant to post this on March 8th for you).
Thank you Star, for saving my life. Both literally and figuratively. Take care of yours and I promise to take care of mine:)