The first time I died, I was six.
On a sandy shore in San Diego, a family reunion of sorts was taking place. I don't remember the names of most of the people there. My parents were there, and Grandpa Jack and Meme, and several cousins- they were surely the same cousins as at that other get together where they climbed that mountain in Victorville near Grandpa Jack's house and had to bring extra water but didn't bring all of the water jugs back and that made Grandpa Jack angry. They were there. And they were almost adults, so the all-the-way adults and the almost-adults were at picnic tables, talking.
There's a beach at Mission Beach, did you know that? I don't like sand now, but I don't remember not liking sand then. I left and walked alone along a lot of wet sand that was next to a line of rocks, and I saw a dead fish. It wasn't very big, and it hadn't been dead long, and a seagull was eating it. I scared the seagull away, found a driftwood stick, and popped the fish's eye. I dropped the stick and kept walking.
I came to a part of the beach where there were more people. Kids, too! Two of the kids had a boat. One of the kids was black, and one was white, and they were wearing their shirts in the boat! I only had swim trunks on. They were paddling back and forth along the shore in their boat, and I wanted to ride in it. I asked them if I could ride in their boat. They said no. I suggested we play Godzilla.
All I knew about Godzilla at this point was that he was black and white, and Mothra was color. Godzilla stomped back and forth and yelled. Surely I was equal to this task. I walked in the shallow water.
I stomped back and forth. I yelled a monstrous yell.
The boys in the boat put on a good show of paddling away from me, mock terror on their faces. I continued to stomp towards them, arms held out before me, the water coming up past my hips, and then my chest, and then suddenly the ground fell away and the water was over my head.
As I tried to swim, my arms were flailing before me just as they were when I was Godzilla, and because I didn't know how to swim this was worse than any monster movie. I could see the boys looking over the edge of their boat, and I could see the air leaving my body in a cloud of bubbles, and then I could only see the light green water above me and the dark green water below me and then I couldn't see anything. Then I couldn't feel anything. Then I wasn't anything.
I came to on the beach. A woman in a swim cap and a one piece bathing suit was kneeling over me and asked if I was all right. I said I was, and then I ran away back to the picnic area where the adults were having adult conversations. I hadn't been missed, but now I'd been gone too long. Something could have happened. I had to sit on my hands for the rest of the day.
It was worse than drowning.
I still wish I had told that woman "Thank you."