Shared Stories: Night Swimming and other Stories

Karen Borrell, from the Adirondacks in New York, describes her transformative experience at a nearby lake with friends.  Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns


By Karen Borrell

I learned to swim in our lake by practically drowning while playing “King of the Mountain” on a floating raft with a bunch of friends.  I came away from that experience with a love for swimming, but not much better judgment.

While in high school, I had gone to a nearby lake resort with some friends.  On this particular occasion, we decided to go swimming at night.  There was no moonlight, as it had been raining for days and was still overcast.

After swimming a bit, we decided to play hide-and-seek.  Everyone scattered in different directions, and I had the idea to swim out to one of the closer rafts and swim under the big metal drums to the air space underneath and hide there.

When I dove under the drum and came up to the expected air pocket, my head hit hard against one of the planks that held the drums together.  I was shocked and dazed enough that I lost my sense of direction.

I swam to clear the raft, only to hit the sandy floor of the lake.  I stroked quickly in another direction and hit my head again.  I swam to what I thought was sideways to clear the bottom of the raft, only to hit my head again 

My breath was getting very short, and now I was pawing frantically at the boards, trying to find an end to them.  I was panicking and began to swallow water. 

My struggle began to change and my panic was transformed to memories of my whole life up to that moment.

I remember it was in chronological order and I became fascinated by the flash of detail and the amount of memories that my brain had stored and could remember. 

I felt euphoria and was totally at peace.  Next, my hand felt the edge of the drum and I pulled myself up to air. 

I was helped to shore by concerned friends and spent about four days recovering from the near-drowning and bad headache that lingered. 

But I was left with a powerful wonder at what had happened to me.  I told everyone, and felt no one understood what an incredible thing had occurred.  Apart from that experience which I will never forget, I totally lost my fear of dying and still feel that way today.

Water always seemed to be my personal challenge.  For years I had many scary encounters with it.  Some still can make me tremble with remembering and, in a way, reliving the feelings.

One of the curiously “lucky” happenings occurred at the same beach already mentioned.  I was idly swimming in the summer-warm lake water watching a few children splashing and not paying close attention to anything in particular.

A group I was watching broke up and wandered elsewhere.  A small signal went off in me and I alerted to count heads.  Hadn’t there been another boy?

Unwilling to just wonder at my uneasy feeling, I set out quickly, swimming as fast as I could, keeping my eye on the spot where they had been. I dove under the water searching and saw the boy! 

I grabbed him and exploded to the surface with him and soon was walking up to the beach. An embarrassing crowd drew up as I was doing all the things I guessed one should do. 

The boy vomited water and began to cry.  He looked to be about eight years old.  His friends gathered around and told me where he was staying. 

I carried him to the rented summer cabin only to find that his mother had driven to the city to wash clothes.  I ended up leaving him with the mother of one of his friends as the boy was doing fine again.

I was glad this story had a happy ending.