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  • I remember thinking, "I don't know how to drown. What do I do?" I turned towards the shore, or what I thought was the shoreline (it was very dark, how could I know) thinking I could start by swimming. At least I could make an effort at saving myself.

    "I guess I should strip and start swimming." Then I remembered the discussion we had just had. Bruce, my brother-in-law had explained that the new thinking about falling into the water, especially when it was cold, was to keep all clothing on to help retain body temperature. "Okay, what about my shoes?" I can't remember why they didn't get shed but I kept them on.

    My father had a cabin cruiser. A big old wooden cabin cruiser that demanded a great deal of scraping and painting every spring. It made him happy and we certainly enjoyed the fruits of his and sometimes our labors on sunny calm summer days.

    We left Burlington Harbor the morning of Father's day: Dad, Mom, Peg and Ed (my brother-in-law's parents) and me to go north to South Hero to meet my sister and her family for a family Father's Day. The day was packed with fun, sun, swimming and food. We left just after sunset to head back to Burlington ~ about a 45-60 minute motor. It was very dark as a storm was brewing and VERY windy. The open lake was cluttered with white caps. It was cold, and had been a cold spring. We came up on the Colchester Point Light. Dad asked me to take the spotlight on the bow to shine it on the buoy and be sure we were at a good distance to avoid hitting the shoal. I stepped up on the side one-handed as the other held the spotlight.

    The next thing I knew I was catching my breath with a face full of water and no boat to be seen. It was cold and dark and wet. "What am I supposed to do? I don't know how to drown." It seemed forever before I saw the red and green of my Dad's running lights ~ heard my mother hollering my name holding a small flashlight (the spotlight went over with me).

    "Help!" I yelled. To myself I admonished ~ "Of course they're going to help, idiot!" I heard my mother yell at my Dad to hurry.

    "Don't hurry...." I didn't want them to miss me. "...just hurry." It was all I could think to say. Of course Mom repeated that to Dad, who thankfully ignored her command.

    In the windblown choppy water with high winds and near pitch-blackness, he executed a perfect figure 8 lifesaving maneuver. He slid up beside me slowly, held the engine, playing it so eloquently. Mom threw me a life cushion. And I held on so tired and completely numb from the icy lake. I just wanted to rest ..... just....for....a......moment. The ladder on the stern was within reach and I was barely able to grab it let alone pull myself up. "Just let me rest a minute." Well, that request fell on deaf ears as my Dad and Ed each grabbed an arm and dislocating my ligament challenged shoulders, they hauled me onboard. I think I just lay on the deck for a few minutes to regain a little composure and Dad turned us towards home. Wrapped in towels, sipping a bit of hot tea (not sure where that came from) I sat with Mom and Peg in the cabin, hypothermia beginning to abate. Feeling guilty for not being able to help dock the boat, I stumbled with sopping sneakers onto dry land, just wanting the sanctuary of my head without the questions and discussion that came with socializing even with my parents.

    Assuring my parents and Peg and Ed that I was fine, just wet and cold (and sore), we went back to the house where I had left my motorcycle. My mother wanted me to stay at home, but I wanted to go back to my apartment. Though, I acquiesced to a ride home instead of the bike. At home, with dry pjs and my bed in the dark, I wrestled with the proximity of death, the ignorance about how to die, the absence of fear and not knowing what it was I did feel.

    I can't remember if I slept that night or cried. I don't think I cried. It all still seemed so surreal. I still marvel at the perfection with which my Dad made his turns ~ like a choreographed dance. His slow, painfully slow methodical way saved my life, of that I am sure. My Mom holding me in the weak flashlight beam without losing sight of me in the black and choppy liquid. The chance conversation about how to save yourself when falling overboard. It was all so perfectly crafted. Grateful now for whatever fate was in play that day.
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