Water water everywhere, let’s all have a drink

By Jon Hillenbrand In Photography, Stories

When I was 10 or 11, I nearly drowned in Lake Michigan. I remember the thrilling sense of speed I got when I dove deep in certain directions mainly away from shore. It was like dragging a parachute behind me though when I tried to swim back to shore. I liked going fast so I swam away from shore with the strong current around me. I didn’t think it was dangerous, all I knew was that I had never been that fast before having spent most of my childhood in a pool. I dove down deep and fast dragging my chest along the bottom, following the sand until the pressure got to be too much and the world started to fade into darkness. I wanted to see how much higher the pressure would get compared to the 20 foot deep end at the YMCA. I turned to swim to the surface and remembered almost running out of air because the surface was now much further up than before. Instead of being in 20 feet of water, I was suddenly in 50 or more. I barely made it to the top.

Catching my breath, I cleared the water from my eyes and swam in a circle but didn’t see land. I turned a few more times around and eventually saw the low strip of the Indiana dunes, but I couldn’t tell where the beach was. It seemed too far to swim back, further than I was capable. The people tasked with watching me, friends of my parents, were only interested in their own kid playing with the sand. They didn’t know where I was and it was a private beach with no lifeguards. When I finally started to pay attention to the potential danger I was in, I swam toward land until the point of exhaustion. I knew I had a choice: to swim and live, or scream and hope for a rescue that would never come and die. My childhood at that point was rife with disappointing adults, so I knew no one would help me. My fate was of my own choosing. So I chose a spot on the shore and I just kept swimming until I again reached exhaustion. I looked to be making almost no progress toward land, and I knew this was going to kill me. But stopping was not an option. Swimming directly toward land seemed like it didn’t work as the land would get further away. So I swam at a 45 degree angle to the current and started to make slow progress. I kept going and eventually reached a spot on the water where I could see the beach. It was far to the left, so I turned into the current and just swam as far and as fast as I could violently charging the water. Even though my arms and legs were rubber, I kept slapping at the gray water trying to be streamlined and trying to be efficient with my strokes. With my eyes still closed, my fingers eventually scraped the pebbles of the shore. I struggled through the last of it and arrived at the shore.

Crawling across the painful stones, I collapsed into the sand, my body burning and half out of the water. I was hyperventilating but alive. The parental supervisors just kept playing with little Adam 40 feet down the beach oblivious to my experience. I never told them and I didn’t even tell my parents until maybe a year ago what had happened. But it was a good lesson to learn early on that my life was in my own hands. Religion would come and go, and I even managed to forget the lesson later on, becoming dependent on my parents once again after college for a bit. But I still remember making the choice about living. I remember that feeling of responsibility.

  1. crysOakleee January 29, 2008

    Once, I almost drowned my little brother in a hot tub. I was eight, he was five – we couldn’t reach the bottom, so I decided to keep my face afloat by standing on his head. Unfortunately, my plan didn’t wok out so well and he is around to this day.

  2. crysOakleee January 29, 2008

    BTW, that’s kind of a cool word verification tool thingeemajob. Is that to deter me from commenting when I’ve had a few too many? Also, I think your website is still broken…you probably already know that, but just in case…

  3. jonnyfilmboy March 3, 2008

    Shouldn’t drown your brother. Parent’s don’t like that, unless there’s a bunch of you, then it’s OK.

  4. jonnyfilmboy March 3, 2008

    Word Verficia is for the robots that surf the internet posting comments about sex. Dang robots.

  5. crysOakleee March 4, 2008

    Ah ha! So it IS to deter me! Dang you and your word verifica. (P.S. Why the abreviation? is “tion” such an easy sylable to write?)

  6. […] me the false sense of safety which lead to me almost drowning when I was a kid, the subject of an earlier post here. But these were the funnest days of my childhood and the unique set of circumstances in the Kank […]


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