“Quell the surge!”, the captain screamed, but the water came fast, like the knowledge of mortality revealed. In the last moments of my life above the briny deep, I could only think of the most inane details; the unwashed cup, the unmailed letter, the unspoken word. And, then came the cold, then the pressure, then the force of something that has yet to be described. A vision, a vision of sensations so uncommon they are as foreign as the tongues of strangers from far away places. It will be these visions, these vestiges of the unfamiliar that will end my tale. But, to places more known first we must travel.
My first memory was of a small boat in the bathtub. It was red and had blue and white stripes down the sides. It was a bit top heavy, but only because the sails were made of wood like the rest of the vessel. I had to continuously hold the rudder to keep it from listing one way or the other. I had no idea that that little sailboat was a preview of my end. Try as I might, I would never be able to keep my boat, or my life for that matter, from listing dangerously to port.
Water was a problem for me; any large body of water that is. I was fine crossing ankle deep streams, and I found comfort in the occasional bubbling brook, but if there was water as far as the eye can see, or my eyes couldn’t reach the bottom, it was then that I was not fine. It was not until years after the event that I would realize it was not an accident. He knew I could not balance the unstable barrel, and yet he pushed me into the deep water. I was able to balance at first. I held on to that barrel top so tight I thought my fingers would never come loose, but like a cowboy riding an angry bull, it soon became too hard to control the beast. I held on for only a few seconds after the spin. I remembered looking up and seeing yellow bubbles floating away from me. Those were the last bits of life giving air leaving my lungs in a silent scream as I fell toward the darkness. It got colder, and then nothing.
I was on my side with barrels of water pouring out of my mouth. When I finally stopped heaving up the dirty liquid that had filled my lungs, he was being congratulated for his bravery. I looked up at him and had to squint because the sun was behind his head, but I caught the guilty glimpse before he looked away. My father had almost drowned me, so he could save me in front of his boss at the company picnic. For years he would tell the story of how lucky I was he had been close by. How fortunate I am to have such a quick thinking father to look out for me. I believed it too, until my sixteenth birthday when I saw him holding Frauline Hemmingslos behind the outhouse. All his flaws were suddenly made clear to me; his humanity so apparent. I had known, but was still clinging to the hero image I had held since that day at the lake so long ago. There should be a period of mourning when the image of your father dies, some ceremony to honor the man that existed in your mind. The only eulogy my father received was the bitter disdain that played through my thoughts. The betrayal so complete it left me indifferent to the man, a legacy of ambivalence for him to puzzle over.
I became my father’s unknown opponent. I took joy in making him angry. It became a most glorious game of emotional tag. I would revel in the staging of a scene that I knew would irritate him. I used all his habits against him in these contests, and he never even knew he was playing. I could set him up for a bad day by simply setting his pocket watch back five minutes. This would ensure that he missed the 8:05 train, thereby making him have to either catch the 8:20, or pay for a cabby. On the one hand he could not tolerate being late, and on the other hand he hated to open his wallet, which left him not a hand to stand on.