I almost drowned once. I was a small child in the deep end of a pool during swimming lessons. The world went silent in those seconds, suffocating and wild. The sun seemed brighter under there, and I was transfixed. This isn’t that story, though.
Later, as an adult, I found myself recovering from a sexual assault. My life as a wife and mother had been turned upside down. The world became foreign to me, and I no longer felt welcome in it. Soon, other than taking my child to school, I rarely ventured out into this unknown place. My home was my refuge.
I remember drowning again, this time in air. It was Christmas time, and I was fighting for normalcy when, deep down, I knew it would never exist again. I had decided that it was late enough in the evening that I could handle a toy store. This, in and of itself, was insanity. What toy store at Christmas time is ever a safe place? I should have known it was a bad decision as soon as I parked my car. And yet I was so focused on getting in the door, I didn’t even notice I was swimming into the deep end.
It was winter-dark when I got out of my car. There weren’t many people in the parking lot, but I grabbed onto my purse anyway. It felt as if the front door of the toy store was dancing backwards from me as I tried to move closer. Other parents were walking freely around me, along with a few children, but I slowed to a stop. And stared.
I was drowning. The air began to close in around me and suffocate me slowly. So many tiny fingers started to stroke my throat before they tightened around it until I began to cough. My eyes widened, and I looked frantically around me. Nobody. My hands shook as I tried to pull out my phone, but my fingers were numb inside their gloves. Useless. The world turned silent around me.
I remembered, then, that distant childhood memory of almost drowning in the pool. I wasn’t cold anymore; I felt the warmth of the water around me. I could see the flirtatious water winking at me, the sunlight moving through it. And the quiet. The silence was beautiful. After the tumultuous pain I had been through recently, drowning in the snow and air around me felt soothing. So soothing I could ignore my heart beating, thundering in my ears, keeping time with the pulsing behind my eyes.
I had fallen to my knees, perhaps in prayer but more than likely out of despair. My eyes had begun to focus again, my breath steadying, tears streaming. The feeling of suffocation had begun to pass.
Somebody had pulled me out of the deep end once more, and I was no longer seduced by a warming silence. Two people were there, steadying me, asking me questions. I heard the words “panic attack,” but they didn’t really register with me at the time.
For the first time, in those early moments, I felt afraid. Afraid of losing control, of course, but mostly afraid of delighting in the silence – in the suspension of existence. And I cried. I cried for what had happened to me. And I cried that I was pulled out of the pool.
Photograph by Flickr user ThomasOfNorway, used under a Creative Commons license.
“Let it always be known that I chose joy over despair, family over the world, and to fight when it mattered. Welcome to me. I give a damn.”