This is a story from my childhood with some embellishments, but is almost entirely true.
The most frustrating part about the fact that I died when I was three was that I was at a party I didn’t even want to be at. My brothers were having a pool party at our house in Johannesburg. The backyard was spacious and the pool only took up the back quarter of our walled in property. I was three, my older twin brothers were twelve or thirteen. Their hormones were beginning to emerge and social events began sprouting up like smelly, anxty wild flowers. It seemed as though every weekend held some sort of sleep over or punch party.
At this particular hormone-extravaganza, my brothers had been charged with the task of watching over me while they entertained their fellow Tweens in the pool area. Our parents were elsewhere drinking and smoking. The wives and mothers all sat on the front veranda overlooking the long private driveway of our home. It was lined with beautiful bougainvilleas that held orchestras of colourful South African birds. The driveway led up to the side of our house and into the parking garages. From the pool all one could see of the veranda's occupants were thin pillars of smoke shooting up into the air from beneath various extravagant hats. As for the men, they were deep inside the house in the smoking room. Their pungent cigar smoke banished by the women into the belly of the house.
As mentioned before, I did not want to be at this pool party. I had spent the better part of the day in the sandbox and would have been happy to continue playing until the time came for bed.
To my credit, I have always been a patient and forgiving person. My mother would describe me to her friends as ‘Laissez-Faire’ manifest as child. I did not mind being stuck in the shallow end of the pool, even though the pool had a beautiful waterfall feature that would’ve been fun to jump off of. Neither did I mind the yellow scratchy plastic inflatable pool wings that I had been equipped with, in fact the only thing that had been bothering me was a particular toy car of mine that had run off its track and wound up in the bottom of the deep end of the pool.
Despite my varied attempts at trying to communicate this predicament to someone, I remained loud but effectively silent. I tried my best to employ all seven words that I had somewhat mastered. No one was paying me any mind. I had tried asking some of the girls politely for assistance but my request was met by a burst of giggles when they saw I had lost my swimming trunks and stood before them naked but water-winged. Realizing that the girls weren’t my best bet, I made my way over to the boys. They threw me into the pool so fast that I was still mid-question when I clapped the water with the front side of my body all at once. Stung(physically and otherwise) but still determined, it was evident that matters had to be taken into my own wrinkly pool hands.
Once again if not ‘as usual’, I put patience to work and waited for the Tweens to finish coming up with as many accidental ways to touch each other’s semi-naked bodies. This involved all sorts of slipping, chasing and imbecilic eyes closed pool games that seldom involved eyes more closed than a peak. I sat on the side of the pool and watched their numbers dwindle. Once the better part of the squealing, crackly voiced hellions had cleared out, I made myself scarce. I was well aware that if someone had noticed me and been reminded that I was there in the first place, I would no doubt be corralled back into the house and further away from my sunken treasure.
The pool was surrounded by tall trees and expansive bushes. This made hiding easy enough. I sat in silence, crouched behind a bush. Resting on my haunches, I examined the squishy soil beneath my feet. Curling my toes in to produce not only an incredibly satisfying squelch of a noise but also causing muddy earth to squeeze up from between my toes. I could barely contain the giggles that yearned to praise the simple pleasure I had discovered. Such joys help pass the time, and pass the time it did. It seemed as though I had just discovered the toe trick when I looked up to see I was alone at last in the pool area.
I slowly stood up, holding my knees in my hands. ‘Ooh...ah..’. I murmured. There was no need for the noise, but I felt like it made me seem mature and refined as I often heard my Father make the same noise whenever he stood up.
The pool rolled around before me, the waves still alive from the activity of my brothers and their friends. I squinted and looked into the bottom of the pool. The fire-hydrant-red blur of my car sat directly in the middle of the deep end, exactly as predicted. It would take a quick dip to the bottom and then I would be back in business. I shook off my inflatable swimming wings; they were strangely manufactured specifically to keep me from diving into the bottom of the pool(???). Redundant(!!!). They slipped off easily once I had deflated them slightly and then I was ready. Without any sense of elegance or form, I flopped into the pool and sank like a rock. The water rushed into my mouth and stung my eyes. The sting caused me to gasp, thus inhaling chlorine rich pool water into my lungs. My arms flailed as I began to regret my decision to remove my water wings. Drats. The more I tried to swim, the weaker I felt. My actions became sluggish and I felt my body sinking at the same rate as my eye lids closed. Slowly but steadily.
My mother found me 10 minutes later, floating face down in the pool. How I was floating when short on oxygen and yet sunk when I had an abundance of it in me is anyone’s guess. She had spotted me from the balcony with the other women. Her cocktail flew from her hands and she jumped off the balcony. Later at the hospital they would discover a pretty serious fracture in her leg, but at the time she hit the ground running without even a flinch. She sprinted across the expansive lawn towards the pool, screaming at our nanny Eva to call an ambulance. Eva had been eating her lunch peacefully before hearing my mother’s screams. She wasted no time and flew towards the house in hysterics. My mother finally reached the pool and in a single bound cleared the 4 foot fence surrounding it. Her white summer dress caught the sun as she arched up and over the fence. For a moment it was a beautiful scene, like something off the cover of a harlequin romance novel. A tall beautiful woman flying through the air with silky white fabric whipping around her as she looks onward, distraught. She plunged into the water, snatched me up, and slipped out of the pool all in one lightning fast motion. She put her dusty nursing abilities to use and managed to get a fair amount of water out of my lungs through mouth to mouth. My skin was damp, cold and grey.
An ambulance arrived with appreciated punctuality and I was rushed into the emergency room where I was to be resuscitated. The damage was minimal and miraculous. Doctors were quoted estimating anywhere from mild to severe brain damage, but I suffered none(depending on who you ask). Despite lacking a heart beat for approximately a minute and a half, I managed to walk away unscathed. Ready to return home to another attempt at recovering my submerged car.