As a family, the G****s have all been supremely fond of water and attracted to all its majestic gorgeousness which probably helps explain why we have accumulated several near-drownings to our collective name.
The ones I know about, in chronological order:
1. My grandmother who almost drowned twice. Firstly in a river as a child, and then in the Black Sea as a young woman when she joyfully waded in to meet the powerful waves and realised too late that the waves were as joyfully preventing her from breking off their date. My grandmother was a strong woman, and she fought hard but each time she got close to the shore the waves would simply pull her back again. And she could feel herself tiring fast and she could see my father the toddler sitting on the beach, stretching out his chubby arms to her, attempting to wade into the sea to pull her back while she tried to shoo him away, to tell him to go back. And it would undoubtedly all have ended quite badly except that in her mad flailings her foot, the tip of her foot, snagged against a rock. A single piece of purchase amongst all that shifting sand that she clung to as the waves tried to sweep her back, and which she used to climb out onto the shore. (When first related to me this story gave me nightmares. I imagined the Black Sea as a sinister place of very dark water, and it was only when I travelled there a decade later that I was surprised to discover it very pretty, actually).
2. My father, in childhood, sitting on the shore while my grandmother washed dishes and clothes. The water was restless but he went in and as my grandmother watched in horror a towering wave just came and closed over him neatly as a fist, and it carried him away. The shorewater was murky, full of froth and mud and sand. And he was still a small child, my father, and he could barely swim. My grandmother dropped the clothes she carried and dove into the water after him. She couldn't see anything, nor hear, but somehow, by some needle-in-a-haystack chance she found him. Her hands connected with his shirt and they broke surface and she dragged him ashore while he coughed and wheezed and retched.
3. My mother as a young woman on holiday in Turkey seeing an empty wavy sea and not understanding why none of the silly people were swimming in it. Going for a swim and then realising that the tides and the waves were so strong that she couldn't get out, and that as she struggled and tired the currents just pulled her closer and closer to the rocks upon which the waves smashed. She likely would have come to a very sad end were it not for the fortunate fact that a team of waterpolo players happened to be sunning themselves on that beach. When they saw that she was in trouble they waded in and circled her and passed her on, one towards the other, ever closer to the shore, much as they would have a ball in their sport. It took a team of five athletes to rescue her from the sea, just barely.
4. Me. First as a child, seven or eight years old. I'd been frolicking in the sea with my father and he got out first and I was struggling through the shallows trying to get out as well when I felt the water pulling back indicating the approach of a wave. What followed next was like one of those dreams in which you're trying to run but your limbs are made of lead and someone is chasing you but you can only move slowly no matter how hard you try. And when the wave comes you hear it and you are terrified because you're remembering the story your grandmother told you of how the waves carried your father away. And then before you have time to properly take a breath the wave is here, and it's bigger than anything you've ever seen and it's closing over you and it's lifting you up and carrying you away, sucking you back into the womb of itself. And inside that wave it's beautiful and the roar of the ocean fades away. And everything is silent and still and the blue and the light is amazing. I know I thought I was going to die, but I stopped being scared. In fact, everything just stopped. The strangest, most incongrous, unexplainable thing was that I felt like I could still breathe in there. I felt like I was being shown a secret room, a cave, a gate to something else that I could just step through. I don't really remember what happened next - only that I fought my way to the surface somehow, and that when I gained the shore my swimming trunks were falling off because they were so full of sand from having been dragged along the seabed.
The second time that the fact that I am no match at all for the sea and its waves came to my attention much later, when I was eighteen or nineteen. There were strong waves again, and plenty of people in the sea and I couldn't wait to join them. It was fun, it really was, to leap up and into waves, to be swept and lifted by them. I was having a grand time, up until I saw my friend on the shore begging me to get out because she was worried. So I started wading out towards her, forgetting the fact that waves come in series and are most deadly in the shallows. The seabed on that beach was made of stones, and my feet hurt and struggled for purchase. In the shallows the water was waist deep, and I could feel the sea's tug indicating the approach of a wave and I could hear the roaring in my ears and I was back in my dream again in which I can't run no matter how hard I try. When I turned around to look there was a towering wall of water surging to meet me. For a split second I noticed its colour (moss green, aventurine) and I contemplate my options (go forward, go back) and decide to try and dive through the wave to avoid it smashing me to a pulp. But I am no match at all for the sea, and it smashes me anyway. This is nothing at all like the first time the waves carried me away. There is no stillness, no blueness - only murk and salt and my own slicing panic which makes me flail because the sea is pulling me and I don't know which way is up or down or how to break free and goddamnit I don't want to die here. I don't want to die.
And I reach the surface and I'm in the shallows coughing and choking, blinded by seawater and my wet hair across my face and before I have time to do anything, to take a deep breath even, the second wave comes. It slams down on me like a sledgehammer and it pulls me down into itself and it slams my head against one of the rocks along the seafloor and then everything goes dark, which is in many ways a mercy because at least I'm not afraid anymore.
There are other mercies, like the moment of grace in which a person whose face I don't remember and whose name I never knew dives in after me and finds me, and snatches me away from the sea. I don't remember this, only the humiliation of coming to on the shore and realising that I am half naked (since my bikini has come twisted and untied in all the fiasco), that I look like I have been gored by a wildcat from having been dragged across the seafloor, that I have blood and snot pouring from my nose, that I'm vomiting water and my throat stings and that my hair is a mess and that worst of all THERE IS A CROWD OF PEOPLE WATCHING ME.
I feel simultaneously glad that I'm alive, and dissapointed that this is something that Baywatch has in no way prepared me for.
One might be forgiven for thinking that G****s would from now on take the executive decision of Staying On The Bloody Shore, but in fact we keep venturing into water generation after generation, year after year. What's worse - we look forward to it.
Except for me, when there are waves, even little ones. And when I'm wading into the water, and there are waves and I can't touch the seabed, I panic. There's something in me that freezes the instant it feels the sea pulling back, the instant it hears the noise of the ocean picking itself up. Because in that instant, I am right back into my almost-drowning and I'm really really scared. This is in fact because I am mostly a bunch of Anxiety Disorders clothed in human flesh and that I'll be keeping the therapy trade happily lucrative for years to come.