I got as high as Life Scout in the organization; nobody knows about that rank because it’s the one below Eagle Scout. I couldn’t ever become Eagle Scout because you had to have a life saving swimming merit badge which meant jumping in the water and pretending to save drowning people. I wasn’t likely to get that because I couldn’t swim. Actually, I shouldn’t have gotten beyond 1st class scout because I couldn’t swim. But my parents actually paid for swimming lessons for me, and the guy giving the lessons finally had mercy on me and let me get the swimming merit badge by doing it on my back rather than on my face like I was supposed to. No way was I going to be able to save people while swimming on my back.
I really don’t know what the fucking big deal was about swimming. Back in South Carolina nobody knew how to swim. We were landlocked and nobody had swimming pools. Maybe getting me to swim was a way of raising the status of the whole family or something. I just couldn’t put my face in the water to do the crawl. Once back in SC we had gone on a family outing. A rare thing. Because it was blazing hot they took us down to the Enoree River near Clinton to cool off in the water. This was a very old river that twisted this way and that.
I took about 10 steps out into the old Enoree River and whap I fall into a hole made by its swirling currents. I went straight down, and I felt like I do today when I fall; I just sort of relaxed and went with the flow because there wasn’t much I could do about it. I mean I didn’t know how to swim. I sort of knew the situation was dire and then I was distracted by my life passing before my eyes just like they say it does when you are drowning. This didn’t last long because my life was pretty short. I was about 4 and then things went dark and before I knew it somebody had grabbed me by the hair.
A guy had been standing there with this pants rolled up to the knee, and he had looked over and seen me, and then he had looked away for a while, and then he looked back and saw I had disappeared, and then he saw what looked like movement under the water and he grabbed me by the hair and pulled me straight up.
And the way the old lady acted you would have thought she was the one who nearly drowned. It was boo-hoo-hoo, boo-hoo-hoo, and she wouldn’t stop so once again I had fucked up. I remember sitting in the back of that car and saying, “Mommy, Mommy, I am all right. I am all right.” But it was still boo-hoo-hoo, boo-hoo-hoo.
I spent way too much energy over the years trying to make that woman feel better. But she was like that hole in the Enoree River —bottomless. You could try and try to make her feel better but it didn’t do a damn bit of good.
And that’s why years later I couldn’t put my face in the water to get that fucking merit badge.