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Thursday, July 12, 2012

"Living on Borrowed Time"

Here is Blind Slough.  Beautiful, serene, and a paradise on nice days such as this.  Behind this photo is where I grew up on a float house, the entire bank on the left is the very narrow road that runs along Blind Slough, and the bridge off in the distance is the notorious bridge in Brownsmead known only as The Big Cement Bridge.  Not too bad during the summer I must say.  However, beyond these pilings in the photo is a memory of horror and fear like I had never felt before. 

It was either 1984 or 1985 when my parents, who earned their living playing music, decided to travel to Pocatello, Idaho to play music to bring in extra income.  Even though it was a gig on the road it still paid a lot more than local gigs did and my parents needed to do what they could to make money to raise a family.  I had spent most of my life travelling with them on such journey's but this time my parents decided to let me stay down the road from our house a couple of miles at my grandma's house.  I was in high school and they probably felt it was better than having me try to make up that much school work.

One night during this 3 week vacation from parents I was walking down the driveway to pick up the mail for my grandma when a schoolmate drove by.  He stopped and we started chatting.  I don't precisely remember how the conversation went down but I do remember saying I needed to get something from my float house that I needed for school the next day and my friend offered me a ride.  Even though this item was not imperative for me to have my teenage mind said, "I get some freedom, Grandma will buy the story, all is well."

All was going well, I was free, we were chatting, life was fun (all 2 miles of it).  I went down to the house and grabbed some clothes I wanted from the homestead.  Back to the car and off we went heading back to grandma's.

I could be off about the time a bit but I think it was around 8 PM.  All I really remember is that it was completely dark out.  As we are driving along this VERY narrow dike road we saw headlights up ahead crossing the big cement bridge.  Suddenly my friend panics and says, "Oh shit, that's my dad!"  Ah hah!  I saw I was not the ONLY one who was where they were not supposed to be.  I remember wondering though, how could he know that?  It was completely dark and the lights were a good 1/4 of a mile away, there was no way he could see our vehicle since we could not see his except for the lights.

It didn't matter, my friend was scared and didn't want to get caught.  He decided to turn off the headlights so the other car couldn't see us.  This was where I panicked.  I yelled, "We're going to go into the slough!"  Then I felt it...tipping, leaning, rolling, cold water.

The cab of the pickup immediately filled with water.  Somehow I caught a big breath before we submerged.  I remember rolling completely upside down and then suddenly felt I was upright again.  Total blackness.  I began feeling around for anything to get my bearings as to where in the cab I was so I could find a window to break out.  It felt like an eternity I was trying to feel my way but nothing really made sense.

Then I started to feel pain in my chest, like I could not hold my breath any longer.  I thought, "This is it."  Then the strangest phenomena flooded over me.  I felt like I was transported into this huge, pitch black vastness standing in front of the largest movie screen ever.  The famous phrase 'the world flashes before your eyes' became a reality to me.  I stood there watching images of moments in my life.  It was as though I was transported into them.  Each image lasted just a millisecond but every single one was an impact.  Then suddenly I was in current time looking at an image of what my family was doing on their travels in their van.  My chest was hurting more and more and thought it was almost time to let my breath out and call it a life.  In my head I said 'sorry' to my family because I knew they would be sad once they learned what happened.    

All of a sudden my hand felt the passenger window, more precisely, the passenger broken out window.  I had a way out!!  I started swimming.  I was out.  I kept swimming but it was hard and seemed to get harder.  It dawned on me I was disoriented and may be swimming down.  Since I could not see which way bubbles would float as it was completely dark I decided to stop swimming and see which way I started floating.  Quickly I was able to orient myself and make it to the surface.  THAT was the BEST breath of air I ever remember taking!!! 

Fairly quickly my feet found the roof of the truck.  I was able to stand and rest with the water reaching my chin.  After a few moments catching my breath I floated on my back to the bank.  I was too tired to swim but floating with occasional arm movements got me there.  I crawled up on the bank and just sat, stunned, scared, horrified.  Overwhelmed with fear, grief set in wondering where my friend was.  I yelled and yelled for him.  No sound.  The only light was the muted blinker on the truck flashing deep under the water.  I continued to yell, no response.  No splashes, nothing.  I was bawling.  How was I going to tell his parents?  How can I tell someone something so horrific happened to their son?

Suddenly there was an explosion out of the water, a breath taken and I heard the greatest sound, "TERESA!?!?!"  He was alive!!!! 

We walked back to my float house and asked the person renting it if he could give us a ride.  I went back to grandma's house and told her I fell overboard.  She bought it but I knew this could not be the end of it for me.  People would find out, there is a truck over a bank in a slough with a blinker on.  I was pretty sure nobody would think this was just a convenient parking job. 

After the first night of many years to come filled with nightmares of the events I knew I had to tell my parents. Probably the only smart decision I made within that 24 hour period was to tell them on the phone while they were 700 miles away in Idaho.  Yep, they were PISSED!  As an adult I do realize they were probably very relieved that I didn't die, but yeah, they were pissed.  At least during those days long distance was expensive and they could not yell at me for more than 15 minutes or so.     

My friend and I never really spoke of the incident after that.  He was a very good swimmer though and I heard through the grapevine that he had come up for air and went back down looking for me.  I don't know if this is accurate but 26 years later I sure would love to get a chance to hear his story and perspective.  I would also like to thank him, if this was true, for making that sacrifice.  If it isn't true, I still want to thank him for making it and I hope he has had a good, fulfilling life so far.  I have searched for him but I don't think he is a computer person or he is online with another name.  One day I do hope to get the chance though. 

When my grandpa from my mom's side of the family learned of the story, he had one poignant comment, "You are living on borrowed time."  Looking back at how close I was to giving up my breath I have to say I agree with him.  It hasn't been all smooth but I have learned a lot and am SO happy in this stage of my life now.  I don't feel I am wasting my "borrowed time".    

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing this story. I'm sure it wasn't easy for you to relive the details to "put them to paper". You've share bits and pieces of this life experience with me, but this is the first time I'm hearing the whole thing. I had know idea just how severe a situation it was. This act of sharing it, I believe, is a sign of healing from the negative emotional effects of the event. <3