Deep Water has been taken from William Douglas’s book “Men and Mountains”. It was his personal experience. It reveals how as a young boy, William Douglas nearly drowned in a swimming pool. In this extract, he talks about his fear of water and thereafter, how he finally overcame it.
Douglas was about four years old. He visited a beach with his father. They stood in the surf. A powerful wave swept him and knocked him down. He was terrified. He had avoided water since then.
When Douglas was about eleven years old, he had a desire to learn swimming. The Yakima River was treacherous, Many people had drowned in it. His mother advised him never to try to swim in it. But the YMCA pool was safe. It was only two to three feet deep at its shallow end. The other end was about nine feet deep and the drop was gradual.
Douglas decided to learn swimming there. He bought a pair of water wings and went to the pool. He paddled with water wings. He imitated others.
One day he was sitting all alone on the edge of the pool, a well-built young man came there. He looked at skinny Douglas and out of mirth, picked him up and tossed him into the deepest part of the pool. Douglas hit the water surface in a sitting position and began to sink to the bottom slowly. Douglas was terrified, but he could think of a plan to save himself. He decided to spring from the bottom of the pool as soon as his toes touched it.
He hoped he would pop like a cork to the surface. Then, he would lie flat and paddle to the edge of the pool.
As soon as his toes touched the tiled floor of the pool, Douglas bounced with all his strength. But he did not rise quickly. He came up slowly. He opened his eyes. He could see only water. He grew panicky. He was suffocating. He tried to shout but there was no sound. Finally, his eyes and nose came out of the water. He beat his arms. He tried to raise his legs. But they hung like dead weights. He felt something was pulling him downward again.
Once again, he slipped downwards. He had spent all his energy. His lungs ached and his head throbbed. He was getting dizzy. But fortunately he could remember his strategy. Once again he sprang from the bottom of the pool. He was paralysed, stiff and rigid. But when he jumped, he could see only water around him. Then, suddenly he reached the surface. His eyes and nose came out of water. But he began to go down once again.
Once again, he began to drift downwards. He could make no effort. He was relaxed. There was no fear. There was no panic. It was all quiet and peaceful. He felt as if he were floating in space. He was unconscious. When Douglas regained his consciousness, he realised that he had been saved. He was lying on his stomach. He was vomiting. He heard voices. Someone said he had nearly died. The young man who had thrown him into the pool said that he had done it out of fun.
After sometime, Douglas went home. He was weak and trembling. The dreadful experience haunted him again and again. A few years later he went to the waters of the Cascades. He wished to wade into them. The terror seized him again. His legs were paralysed. Whenever and wherever he went fishing, canoeing, bathing and swimming, he was with terror. The joy of living was lost. Finally, Douglas decided to get an instructor to help him overcome his fear of water. The instructor helped him bit by bit, piece by piece. First, he put a belt round Douglas and attached the belt with a rope. He held the end of the rope as they moved up and down the pool. He made Douglas put his face under water and exhale. He held Douglas on the side of the pool and made him kick with legs. He was with Douglas for about six months. When he felt that Douglas was able to swim alone, he left.
Though Douglas was able to swim the length of the pool up and down, he was not sure that the old fear had left him completely. He, however, was prepared to overcome it if it reappeared. Then, he went to Lake Wentworth in New Hampshire. He dived off a dock at Triggs Island. He swam two miles across the lake to Stamp Act Island. He used all, the strokes he knew. Only once did the terror return. But Douglas was able to overcome it at once. He still wanted to test himself. So Douglas went to Warm Lake. There, he swam across the other shore and back. Terror did not reappear. Douglas gave out a cry of victory.
His terror of water and his conquest of it, gave him an insight into the meaning of life and death. He had experienced the fear of death as well as the sensation of dying. He felt there is peace in death. So he lived more intensely. He enjoyed life.