Drowning From Saving

Once, I helped save someone from drowning. It's lessons never left me. There's been so many times since, that I've wanted to talk about it. I never talk about it. It seemed like a braggart thing to do. Do a nice deed and don't tell people, right?

How the fuck would any of us learn anything if we never shared our lessons? Especially the ones when we realize we're frigen stupid.

A friend and I were at the shore. We got there late in the day. The lifeguards were gone. We swam for a little bit, but not long. Like all seas, the Atlantic Ocean tames herself during the day. Although her temper stays tame compared to other oceans, early evening she's a crazed protective mother who reclaims her treasures.

We were getting our things together to leave. Towels, shoes, shorts...there's not much you need when you're an un-achored 20-something.

My friend smacked my shoulder and said in kind of a detached way,

                "I think someone's drowning."

I look up. I disagreed with him.  All I saw was a choppy angry ocean. It takes a skilled eye to see a drowning victim.

We walked up to the coastline. A formally empty beach was now filled with onlookers.

You think of the weirdest things in a crisis. Or it's more like, the thoughts you have get magnified as you hold them under a microscope standing apart from your thoughts wondering, "What the fuck does that have to do with anything?"

                                    "Where did all these people come from?"

                                                                                "Those are some really huge dudes."

                                                                   "I hate jocks."

                     "They're pretty hot, though."

We all stood looking out. Murmors and gasps. Pointing and hands prayerful.

                               "Wait a minute. How come we're all just standing here, giving commentary while we're watching a young girl die?"

That was the last thought.

I'm not a strong swimmer, but I can manage a pretty kick-ass breast stroke through choppy water. For a few seconds. I found out, you push yourself when life calls for it. Well, you do or you die. Then, there were the thoughts again.

                                                                                         "This is hard as hell."
                     "Each stroke goes no where."


                                      "I feel like I'm suspended in the water."

         "What is wrong with me? I hve to get to her and I'm moving in slow motion."

(Later my friend had told me that there was no delay from when we went to the shoreline to when I dove in the water. He said I raced to her faster than he would expect.)

Right as I got to her, she bobbed down beneath the water. I dunked myself in and pulled her up by her waist. But, I'm no lifeguard. I could barely tread water.

"Gotta get her out."
                                  "How do I do that?"

I know her father and older sister were in the water closer to the shore, but I didn't see them. I didn't see anything but the young girl with her eyes waning in front of me, my hands holding her, and the water dragging us both further into the sea.

I'd like to re-script it as:
          I suddenly found an innate physical strength hidden underneath a scrawny, flabby body of an                  underachieving young adult. Through an amazing focus and calm, I somehow knew how to get her     out of the ocean.

No. That's not what happened. I held her up. I tried to swim her straight back to the beach. We weren't getting anywhere. Waves were smashing us in the face. I used all I had to hold her face above the water and keep the water out of her mouth. I could feel her getting more limp. I started to panic.

"Dammit I'm stupid"

I couldn't bring to mind the insight I felt. But, I know that I realized it was a mistake to think sheer will and action would save her. Training and controlled action saves. I saw that in a crisis there might be people who do know what to do, but stand there and do nothing. I also saw that when you start to drown, a calmess comes over you.

I felt us catch a current that wasn't bringing us out to sea. We were still getting pulled under, but we were headed to the side. I followed the path with the little kick that I had left. We were getting closer to the shoreline.

I heard some shouting. Saw some bright colors splashing. There were other people who jumped in after me. Two guys grabbed her and pulled her.

I sank back. Relief. It wasn't so much the tide now, as it was the waves. I was gasping for air. It felt like the water splashing in my mouth was quickly filling me with lead. I felt a brief struggle inside me. But, the little girl was safe now. Then, I gave in. I gave into a calm that seemed too good to leave alone. I looked back at the movie clips in my head of moments of a life. I drifted with the water and made peace with it all.

This next part seems scripted like a Hollywood movie. But it's not.

I was letting myself be lulled to death. I wanted to fight for myself, but the water was so relaxing. I was annoyed when an arm threw a boogie board in my face and another arm grabbed my hand.

It woke me up.

"What the fuck was I doing? I'm not a frigen wimp. I'm a fighter."

My friend helped me grab on to the boogie board. He dragged me back to land.

The little girl was brought over to her little beach chair. Her father with that wide-eyed trauma glare made sure to thank us before making sure his little girl was okay. He was grasping her shoulders to see if she was really there.

The two lifeguards ran up to us. I don't know. I guess I was expecting some verbal Recognition Award.
Recognition Award

For bravery and a selfless response in an emergency 
from the unemployed slacker art school graduate

Alethea Pape

That's not what happened. 
What I got was,

"What did you do?!"

"You need to leave that to the lifeguards!"

Or something like that. Well...you can almost drown the Jersey girl,
but, you can't drown the Jersey out of the girl.

(that doesn't really make any sense.)

I was exhausted, but we just fricken saved a little girl. We fricken did it! So, I started yelling back at these guys. "Your job? Where the fuck were you then!..." and my friend saved me again and got me out of there because I think when I started shootin' my mouth off, they started mentioning arrest for unlawful whatever the fuck.

The action I took was instinctual.  I wouldn't change what I did. I'll never forget it because two young slackers helped save a little girl from drowning. I move into action in a crisis. That's an amazing characteristic. What I could have done at that time in my life was not try to tone down my personality, but develop it with some Emergency Preparedness classes. I did go on to some jobs that required me to think on my feet and be ready to jump. 

  1. The human body will push beyond it's limits in a crisis.
  2. A crisis will show you ... you. Your limits, your power, your character.
  3. There's a reason for the No Swimming signs.
  4. Don't try to swim in a straight line back to the beach in a rip current. 
  5. Death can be a tricky bitch who lulls you into a sense of euphoria so you can fucking die!
  6. The human spirit and compassion is more powerful than any dark lie.
  7. No matter who you are or where you are in life, you are useful.
  8. You don't ever save anyone alone.
  9. Fuck the rules when somebody's life is at stake.


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