I'm not sure how old I was the summer I almost drowned. It is one of my earliest memories, and it was before I could swim. We have a pool in our backyard, and we used to have this inflatable killer whale we called Shamoo. Our mom didn't swim much, so Julia and I would play tea party in the shallow end until our dad finished work and came out to play with us. Until then, there was strictly no leaving the shallow end.
Of course, being a child, I decided one day that I was going to ride on Shamoo, before my dad came out; I couldn't swim, but why should I wait to have fun until he got there? So with much difficulty, I climbed onto Shamoo, and managed to drift out into the pool.
I was having fun, until I leaned too far, and Shamoo flipped over. I vaguely remember desperately trying to breathe, and flailing my arms and legs, trying in vain to reach the surface, but there is one memory that sticks out. There was one moment when I wasn't thinking about trying to breathe, or get to the surface. I will always remember the curiosity I felt, looking up from about a foot beneath the surface without goggles, seeing the rainbow distortions of the light from under water.
My mom ran down from the deck and jumped into the pool in her jeans to save me, and soon, I was on the side of the pool, safe, sound, and in big trouble. After that, my parents forced Julia and I through swim lessons, and were more careful about watching us. I think we had Shamoo for a few more summers, until one year he wouldn't inflate anymore, and then, like all other childhood toys, he went away in a Good-Will truck.
The thing that strikes me about this experience is not so much what happened, but what I remember. Everything is fuzzy, except that one moment, the image forever carved into my brain, of the rainbow diffractions on the surface.