The bright sun and water warmed me thoroughly. Nearly blinded by the glare on the surface, the ball was still within view. Muscles strained to reach it in my struggle while also desperately searching for something solid to stand on.
Movement became laborious as my thoughts of drifting off into deep slumber beckoned. Bathed in the warmth my body relaxed as darkness overcame me. Sleep, glorious sleep, summoned as body and soul relinquished restraint overcome by blackness.
My frame was nearly upright as we plodded through the sand toward the blanket spread before us. Propped up by my brother, cognizance escaped as I sought consciousness. Darkness gradually made way for strands of filtered light. I chased the ball, and the next instant, my feet trudged along as the burden of limbs and body overcame me.
Thoughts raced as I desperately sought to piece together the “in between.” My first coherent thought was my children. Crying out for them, I was assured they were safe as the others continued to play, unaware.
My leaden body collapsed on the blanket. Darkness pervaded, yet the sun scorched my skin. Weakness caught me off guard.
Feeling out of control is the precise reason I had never tried alcohol. A seasoned control freak, it was not in my nature to surrender power to anyone or anything.
We had piled into my car — my two young children, niece and four younger siblings. We arrived at a favorite swimming spot, slathered tanning lotion — these were pre-sunscreen days — over our blistering skin and placed a blanket over the picnic lunch and thermos for later.
We were a jolly group as I watched the little ones wading at water’s edge. My siblings coaxed me into a waist-high depth for a game with an over-inflated ball. As it was tossed back and forth, all — except my two brothers, the only swimmers — the rest of us remained very cautious about getting out too deep.
Laughter and shouts of joy rang through the atmosphere. Keeping an eye on the little ones playing in the sand, we relished in delight. The ball was tossed to me but was off course, landing about 8 feet to my left. With each attempt to grab it, it escaped, moving a wee bit further from my grasp.
The decision to walk to it failed. There was no bottom. This sudden realization frightened me. Glimpsing at the kids still playing contentedly in the sand, my arms flailed to no avail. My legs sank, followed quickly by the rest of me.
All 5 foot and 8 inches of me submerged and there still was nothing solid. In a panic, my head bobbed through the surface. Gasping, I quickly sank again. My siblings cackled with glee, apparently considering it an act of comedy, since they stood firmly on the bottom.
Fortunately, my brother apparently recognized true fear in my countenance as he morphed into the Eagle Scout he was. My next semiconscious thought was of being lead to the blanket.
This event had a happy ending, but the many “what if’s” haunted me. What if he hadn’t been there? Many times we had visited that park without a swimmer in our midst. We were alone on the beach that day — not even a stranger in sight.
What if I had drowned? What would become of my kids and husband? My life was not something I sought escape from. It was fulfilling and happy with contentment and joy.
This was not the first time I had been rescued from the depths. On two previous occasions, I had found myself in trouble in the water.
Until junior high, the only open water experience for me had been knee-deep streams and creeks. It needed to end.
Hubby attempted to teach me to swim. My eyes couldn’t function underwater. They burned and hurt something awful, even from a splash. The rhythm escaped me. My muscular legs immediately sank, and to float was impossible and frightening.
My solution to avoid a repeat was to stay out of the water. Success, yes, but it was sad to sit on the sidelines, watching others have fun.
Finally, as a young grandmother, I took lessons at the local YMCA. It was an arduous task as fears were deep-seated but eventually overcome with a patient instructor.
Floating was difficult, because my muscular legs continually sank. Tilting my head back to expose only my face is the only way I can float — upright, like a freak of nature. Now I enjoy swimming.
There are other ways to drown. Concerns, fears, sorrow, grief, troubles, debt, worry and woe can pull us under. Don’t feed on them. Concentrate on the positive. My method is to drown in blessings and gratitude, if I drown at all.
— A coal miner’s daughter born in Appalachia and schooled in Michigan, she currently lives in rural Athens. Hill describes herself as a cook and cookbook author, jack of all trades and master of none, a Christian wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She shares her home with her husband, Bob, and their spoiled-beyond-belief dog, Molly.