Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Near Death Experience

I almost died when I was seventeen. By drowning. By jumping off a 100' high tower into a lake. I couldn't swim. It was a near death experience.

Well, okay, the tower probably wasn't quite 100' high. And I could do a fairly decent dog paddle and side stroke for short distances. And I guess I didn't really come close to dying. Unless it was from humiliation.

It was the summer of 1960. My best friend Diane was a pretty blond with an over-developed seventeen year old body. She was slightly ditzy with an off-the-wall sense of humor, was much more adventuresome than I, and a heck of a lot of fun to be around.

One day when she and I both had a day off from our summer jobs, I was given permission to take the family car and drive to The Quarry, which was about 6 miles from where we lived, to go swimming. I had just purchased a cute, little, new two piece, blue and white gingham checked swim suit which I was eager to wear, and we both wanted to work on our tans more than get any exercise swimming.

The Quarry (as the name implies) had originally been a huge stone quarry which had been made into a popular swimming spot frequented by families and young people. It was divided into three sections. Part of the "lake", created in the huge hole left after the limestone was removed, was cemented on one end, two sides and the bottom, almost like a very big, open ended swimming pool. You entered on that end via cement steps into about a foot and a half of water gradually deepening to about four feet where the cement bottom ended at a chain barricade across the lake signifying a drop-off and deep water.

The other two-thirds of the body of water was more like a real lake with sandy beaches on the far end and one long side. On the side, a very shallow area was cordoned off and that's where parents with babies and small children stayed. Across the deep water from this area was a high cliff forming one whole side of the lake. Nearly up against the cliff a limestone tower had been built with a low diving board jutting out into the deep part of the water, a much higher diving board above that and then a concrete platform at the top of the tower. How high was the whole structure? Beats me. Much too high, I can tell you that.

That summer day Diane and I were situated on our blanket on the sandy beach of the deep end of the lake soaking up the sun and watching the activity in the water and on the diving tower. Diane said to me, "We should climb the tower and go off the top platform.”

I looked at her thinking she'd lost her mind. "We've never even gone off the diving boards. Why would we go off the top of the tower?”

"Because it would be fun and then we could brag to everyone that we did it!" Diane said.

"But you know I can hardly swim. And you're not much better. We'd drown," I replied.

"No, look," she said. "It's only a short distance from where we'll enter the water to the chain dividing the other end of the lake. We can easily make it to there and then pull ourselves over to the side. Besides, that really cute lifeguard is sitting right there in his chair," she giggled, "and would be glad to help us if we need it.”

"Nope," I assured her I was not going to do it. "Nuh-uh, not in a million years.”

"Oh, come on! I won't do it by myself and I really, really want to do it. Come on! Please, please, please do it with me?" she begged.

I have absolutely no recollection of how in the heck she talked me into it. It was a hot, crowded day at the lake and there was a long line behind the tower to climb the ladder to the first lower diving board, then on up to the higher diving board and finally all the way to the top of the tower. I did notice that it seemed to be only members of the male species (with the exception of Diane and her incredibly stupid best friend) going all the way to the top. We waited our turn, inching our way to the front of the platform, as one after another person went off. Diane was ahead of me and as soon as it was her turn to go off, she turned to me and said, "I can't do it.”

Picture the whole platform behind us filled with macho guys waiting for these two females to dive, jump, whatever . . . just get on with it . . . so they could have their turn going off the platform. Before I knew what was happening, Diane had done an about-face and was, much to the delight of said male population, side-stepping and squeezing her well-endowed self through them and back down the ladder as those coming up tried to make room for her backing down while making some not so pleasant comments about what the heck did she think she was doing.

Meanwhile I was still standing at the business end of the platform in a state of utter shock. What I should have done was to have grabbed Diane's arm and trailed her back down, no matter how difficult a path that seemed to be. But I didn't. I had panicked. I had frozen. And now the gaggle of guys behind me were starting to heckle.

"Go on, just jump, will ya, babe? You're holding up progress here!”

"Need help? I got an idea. Com'ere, hang on to me and we'll jump together!”

"Maybe she just needs a push. Ya wanna push, sweetie?”

Omigod. The sheer terror of it all. I didn't know what else to do except to jump and end my life quickly. I pushed off the edge of the concrete and went straight down like a rock. A big rock. A big, heavy rock.

When I hit the water my transverse colon came up and smacked my liver so hard I thought I was gonna pass out. I surfaced coughing, choking, gagging, and gasping with water splurting out of my eyes, nose, mouth and who knows where else. I flailed wildly about trying to keep my head above water. I caught a quick glimpse of the hunky lifeguard poised half out of his chair looking as if he was about to dive in to rescue me. The only thing that gave me the strength to collect my wits enough to start swimming a pathetic side stroke over to the chain barricade was the fact that my cute, little, new blue and white gingham checked swim suit top was bobbing up and down in the vicinity of my chin. "Good gawd, please take me now," was the only thought my water-logged brain could form.

Well, Diane and my friendship survived. I survived. I didn't die when I was seventeen. Of humiliation or otherwise. But all these years later, I can still acutely recall the terrible, awful, horrible, terrified feeling I had standing on that platform and knowing I had to jump. And I don't care what anyone else says, it sure felt like a near death experience. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.


Chicken Mama said...

Good story, Mama! I don't remember ever hearing that one.

Some day, I'll have to tell MY story of almost drowning in the Brule!


Mama Pea said...

No, no, no, you don't understand, dear daughter. Your story of almost drowning in the Brule was NOT a funny one . . . and there was no cute lifeguard there to prevent disaster. It's not a story a mother wants to hear about again!

But I'm sure others would enjoy reading your story . . . I'll just cover my eyes for that one, thank you.

Mama Pea

Claire said...

Hmmm...that couple of teenage girls sounds a lot like a couple of other teenage girls I know of... ;)

Chicken Mama said...

I shall assume that you are referring to your blister on that one, and not ME . . . 'cause you KNOW I can't swim so would never have done anything stoopid like that! ;)