I almost drowned as a child. It wasn’t a short ordeal, either. My two similarly-aged cousins and I would always get together and have adventures out in the country that I lived in. This time, around the age of 11, we had a new trampoline that had come in a cardboard box. The box was coffin-shaped to transport the metal rods that support a trampoline. It also came with a lot of plastic wrap, and my mom always sold things online and had a lot of extra plastic wrap as such.
We formed a raft by wrapping the box in sheets of plastic supplemented by bubble wrap to stay afloat; it was a one-seater, and I was the lightest and youngest with the most to prove (the story of my life). I would be the hamster. The creek had recently flooded and gone back to normal level, so it appeared to be wider than it was and the banks were muddied, the same color as the water.
We hauled the thing to the water and dropped it in, and I had to swim out to fetch it and climb in. As I kicked my foot onto the raft, I let a lot of water on the boat, but it only sat on top of the plastic-wrapped interior of the boat. I managed to fling my whole body on with more water, and the weight of my body forced most of the hull underwater. The water was moving fast, and I was approaching rapids. I adjusted myself so that my feet were straight out in front of me towards the front of the raft, and I felt the cardboard’s rigidity giving out, which was no trouble because it was still a loose skeleton for the bubble wrap that was really keeping me afloat.
As soon as I entered the rapids, however, the box contorted, the water reached the cardboard, and the cardboard tore under the weight, effectively collapsing in around me and swallowing me in bubble wrap. I was underwater now in a small pool inside of a bubble of packaging materials, trapped by my own weight pulling the wrap around me. I kicked upwards to get my foot out and then dragged my foot back down with one wall of plastic underneath it. I did a sort of forward roll from my seat and escaped the little hell I had created, now underwater seeing brown and still rolling forwards in the rapids. After a couple of rolls, everything disorientating and disoriented now, I managed to straighten out and keep my head above water for a moment, not having time to wonder how much time had elapsed. I heard the shouts from my sister and cousins as my ears came above the water level, and then they’d disappear as the rapids took me under again. After so many bouts of gasping for breath, I located the closest bank and began desperately flailing for it; some sixty yards downstream later I had reached the bank: “safety,” I thought.
My arm extended and touched the mud, and I was met with a surface that I couldn’t grab. I tried frantically to sink my fingers into the mud, still being forced further downstream, away from my home and the rest of the party, who I now saw were running towards me. I clawed desperately, but my fingers slid with the rest of me, and I left long lines in the mud as I was pulled. My fingers could sink about a centimeter into the mud before it became too dense; I could’ve gotten them all the way in if I could stay still for more than a quarter of a second. An indefinite amount of distance later, my fingers hit the roots of wildgrass, underneath a layer of mud and very liable to give out, and I stopped moving. I was struggling to stay with my roots, believing them to be my last means out of the creek. I was already hundreds of yards further downstream than I’d ever seen; a whole new world. The water was trying to force me further, and my heart was beating heavily and painfully from the constant struggle.
Eventually the voice of my sister came closer and she appeared at the cliff of the bank, trying at first to reach down and quickly realizing that wouldn’t work. She tried to take a step down onto the bank of mud, I don’t know if I said anything, and her foot immediately slid out from under her and she tumbled into the water directly upstream of me, knocking into me and disconnecting me from my root of safety. We grabbed each other and drifted as a pair down the side of the stream, now creating a twin pair of claw lines down the bank. One of our cousins had crossed the creek to scout it out, not knowing that my sister would fall in, and he was shouting at us that his brother had run to the road to get help. We weren’t exactly in the middle of nowhere, but there wouldn’t have been a car on that road for a lifetime of minutes spent in the creek.
I spotted a root that was protruding from the earth, an actual, wooden root, and, as I passed it, I mustered everything I had to strike at it, jumping out of the water; I caught it. . There was only room on the root for one hand, and, by the grace of whoever’s out there watching us, my sister managed to catch my foot as she passed behind me, and I maintained my grip on the sturdy root. We rested like that for a couple of minutes, her propping her head above water and me being about half out of the water. She climbed up to my shoulders and was now about half out of the water herself. She put her foot against my hip and grabbed my arm that was extended to the root, climbed out of the water, leaning on the muddy bank, and tried to get a foothold on the bank, immediately slipping back into the water and almost compromising my grip. On the second attempt, I used my free hand to create a platform to support her foot, and she pushed herself high enough to put her other foot on top of the exposed root, and grabbed a tuft of wildgrass that was leaning over the cliff. I pulled myself up and out relatively easily using the root.
An hour and a half after it started, I was changed.