The sun shone brightly, a beautiful afternoon in Fort Meade, Maryland. A perfect afternoon for a swim. I couldn’t wait. I was visiting my older sister, Jackie, and her husband, Fred, a second lieutenant in the army. At thirteen, I was all long legs, a bundle of shyness but eager to take in everything. This visit had been full of adventure already–a tour of Washington, a boat ride on the Potomac River to enjoy a concert at Watergate (before it was famous), a trip to Fred’s home in Virginia. And now this. Swimming in the officers’ pool.
“A little different from our old muddy pond at home in Georgia, isn’t it?” my sister stated rather than asked. We were standing at the deep end of the Olympic size pool considering our next move.
“It’s so full of people,” I said, a little anxious.
“We’ll just be two more,” said Jackie. “Come on, let’s swim to the other end!”
She jumped in and I was right behind her.
It definitely wasn’t like our muddy Georgia pond. Almost immediately I was in trouble. Someone splashed water right in my face and I strangled. Instinctively, I tried to touch the bottom, to stand up, but of course I couldn’t. I tried to swim faster to get out of the crowd but the crowd was everywhere. I panicked. My flailing arms and legs turned to pudding. I gave a gasping call for help as I went under.
Rather than the beautiful bright afternoon, it was dark to me down in the water. I was desperate to breathe but couldn’t find my way up. I heard someone yelling “Help!” It seemed as if it was my voice but of course I couldn’t yell. I couldn’t even breathe. It was Jackie.
I surfaced but only for one panicky moment. It was when I went under the third time that Jackie took hold of me. I gripped arms and legs around her until she couldn’t move. We were both drowning surrounded by happy splashing swimmers who didn’t notice these two girls locked in each others’ arms.
It was so dark. And so deep. For months, it seemed, we were fighting to surface, our lungs ready to burst. Then, we felt it. The bottom of the pool, the grainy hard concrete floor of the pool. There were voices in the distance, happy voices, everyone still splashing and playing tricks on each other.
In a stupor we found ourselves with feet still on the bottom but with heads above water. We couldn’t even speak as we staggered and stumbled to the edge of the pool, then stood there so weak we couldn’t pull ourselves up the steps.
What had just happened? We had been drowning somewhere in the middle of the deep end of an Olympic size pool. Jackie, with absolutely no training in lifesaving measures, had allowed me to take a death grip on her so she, too, was immobilized.
Yet here we were. Neither of us had felt an extra hand on us but both of us knew there was no way we had walked out of that pool without help. The lifeguard was sitting beside his chair playing cards with some giggling girls. God had sent a water angel to save us that day and we have never forgotten.