I was 12 years old, had only seen swimming on TV, and though it looked great fun, it wasn’t top of my, ‘to do’ list. Then one summer day in 1963, and as had often happened, our neighbour Daphne shouted across the road to my mother. ‘Eileen, do your boys want to go swimming with Ena?’ I was waiting for my mother to shout back, ‘No thanks!’but … ‘Yes OK, but just Daniel!’ she yelled, looking at my two younger brothers and shaking her head; they in turn were giving me evil stares.
I couldn’t believe it! Swimming? Wow, he’s almost a teenager, I guess my mother thought, what could go wrong, they have lifeguards. I was delighted, Daphne’s daughter Ena was 3 years older than me, but I was convinced I’d marry her if things worked out. My younger brothers, Paul and Andre weren’t so lucky that day; well so I thought. I remember arriving at the pool, looking at the bright, vivid blue mass and thinking how huge it was. So many people splashing about, shouting and laughing, having a wonderful time. Looking back, I didn’t even know I couldn’t swim; I guess I thought it just came naturally when you took your feet off the bottom. So, I ran in to get changed, as Ena’s fading holler ordered me to wait for her until she came out of the girls’ room.
Well I waited and waited, all those other kids having fun and me stood there like a beanpole; that’s what my dad used to call me. After about 10 minutes I decided I’d wait in the water, after all, I could watch for Ena from there, and dive in to impress her. Big mistake! Should I go down the ladder, like all the slow and older people, or jump in like a superhero, getting all the attention, those other lads were getting from the girls? I chose the latter, not knowing at the time that the big number 12 near my edge of the pool, meant 12-foot deep! People were treading water, I know that now, but back then, I thought they were standing on the bottom. In fact, I was a bit afraid that I’d hit the bottom when I jumped, so decided to put very little height into it, more of a ‘walk in’.
Well I did just that; I walked in and went straight under! The shock made me take a deep breath, not good with no air around! After that, it’s difficult to remember anything within timeframes, but I’d seen all this before at the cinema, and I knew I was drowning! My eyes were open, I could see the wriggling legs and bubbles in the bright sunshine above me, and I guess because I had no air in my lungs, I just sank, slowly, slowly down, not panicking, just thinking. You know when you see someone in trouble in the water, even on a film, they’re struggling to keep afloat, screaming and spluttering as they choke and constantly try spitting out water. None of that, this was very different, my lungs were full, so no choking to be had, just a resignation that I would die, and knowing that I couldn’t do anything about it.They say your life flashes before your eyes when you’re dying, and it really does. At 12, not much to flash through, probably starting in Ireland with my grandmother who raised me until I was 5; I could see her lovely face reassuring me and I’m sure I smiled back. I wondered why my Mum and
Dad had never really liked me, had it been my fault, should I have made more effort to like them? I was only 5 when I first met them, so never real bonded. I thought about my brother Paul, how shocked he’d been when he opened the sideboard door and it came down like a guillotine on his feet. I’d removed the hinges just to see what would happen, I just expected the door to fall off. My brother Andre drifted through, maybe Paul and I should have been kinder to him, when we were always forced to take him on our adventures when our mum wanted rid of him. My sister Jacqueline was a tiny baby, I‘d never see her again, and I was just getting to like her, well, a bit. But at least I wouldn’t have to spend hours like a robot, rocking her to sleep! The weirdest things just kept flowing and flowing, mainly very funny.
I saw Minush, my cat, best friend and constant companion, especially at dinnertime, waiting strategically under the table to eat any of my mother’s cooking that I couldn’t cope with. Things were so quiet, no sound at all, and even though I was aware, I sensed that I was slipping away. I felt warm, comfortable and sort of happy, because at the time, although I had started to doubt Christianity, believing in God seemed an instant fix given my current predicament. So I decided there and then that I truly believed in Jesus, knowing that single factor could save me from going to hell, if that was about to happen. As I drifted slowly into unconsciousness, the light got brighter. What light? They always say that at the point of death you see a bright light, and there it was, an all enfolding, massive soft warm blanket of radiance, reaching out and wrapping itself around me, making me feel safe.
I would now be looked after, I was ready to go and I was calmer than I’d ever felt. Then, I touched the hand of God! I use that as a metaphor for a feeling that there is no other way of explaining, but I’ve never had that feeling before, or since, but know that one day, I will again. Shock, horror, coming to life was going to be far worse than dying! Someone had spotted me at the bottom of the deep end and raised the alarm. Apparently, the lifeguard dived down, pulled me out and put me in the recovery position. With shocked people all around, so Ena said, he got my heart beating again, and then pumped the water out of my lungs. I spouted like a whale, first the water, then the cooked breakfast that I’d had that morning. Like a fire evacuation in a theatre, everything that could leave my body from any exit did so in a flash. I could hear everyone cheering, I knew I was alive, but I wished I were dead! When I arrived home, my mother asked if we’d had a good time, and with Ena glaring down on me, I said, “Yes mum, it was amazing”. Ena smiled and left, I hadn’t grassed on her; she still liked me! I didn’t go back in the water for about 5 years, and for the rest of my life I would struggle to feel comfortable in any water activity; but over the years I did get better. My magic moment came last summer, when in Australia, I scuba dived for the first time, and to top it all, on the Great Barrier Reef! Oh and, I never did marry Ena!