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The First Time I Died, By Doug Taylor

Comments on The First Time I Died, By Doug Taylor


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Posted 09/20/06 - 8:23 PM:
Subject: The First Time I Died, By Doug Taylor
I think I remember the first time I died.

I remember myself as a child in a swimming pool with at least 50 other people and that two were lifeguards. I was a good swimmer, I was panicked, and I was drowning.

I was on my way out of this life and the event shaped my life in profound ways.

There were too many people splashing around, laughing, screaming and playing.

The lifeguards weren't able to notice me; politely as the child I was, losing control of myself, losing control of my life through my sudden panic.

I had been jumping off the side of the medium dive with some other small kids and into deeper water than I was used to. We were jumping off the side of the board so we could each reach the side easily and get back out fast to jump in again. I had never been on a diving board before. Some bigger kids were running straight out toward the Olympic depths and doing tricks off the same board. Everyone was acting wildly, but still respectful of each other, it was a good day for a large group of excited kids.

I knew how to swim pretty good. I had swimming lessons for a whole year and I felt safe enough now to try myself in the deep water like the bigger kids. So I gathered up some guts and ran straight-out just like them. I bounced high into the air and splashed in deeper than I had imagined I could. The size of the underwater room was startling; it was too startling for me.

The surprise of how deep and how quickly I went was enough to start a panic in me to get to the surface. All of the swim lessons went right out the window at this point and the tide of fear rushed in.

An energy-consuming, inefficient struggling began to take over my body. I was moving with such locomotion, that I couldn't even keep my head above water long enough to replace the oxygen I was using up so quickly, and this forced me to a full panic for the fear of eminent death.

I was screaming out in my head for the people playing all around me to notice me, and to my surprise and despair, they did not.

As I quickly began running out of the energy to struggle, my internal screaming became a faint whisper as compared to the deafening raging panic realizing itself as a huge noise in my head. I reached the point where I couldn't even bob my head high enough to grab half a gulp of air. I was so tired that my muscles simply were not able to continue moving and they seemed to grind to a slow wiggle before they halted in burning pain. Realizing my likely fate, I sank low and fast toward the bottom. The burn of my muscles lessened as I fell and I gained a bit of hope. I tried for one more gulp of air in renewed panicky motion, but it was a feeble attempt and I didn't break the surface to get it.

With that, my fate was sealed in my mind. I let myself fall all the way to the bottom.

I understand what they mean about your life flashing before your eyes. But I don't think that the saying does the experience justice. It is everything, all of existence, and it's in your mind and as real as anything that ever was real in your life, somehow more real than any one part of it; and as it is so, it is ultimately and intimately peaceful.

In this peace, at the bottom of the pool, I was no longer in the panic. I was myself and granting acceptance of my coming death, although I hadn't given the final mechanical okay by accepting the water into my lungs in satisfaction of my body's need to try and breathe anything that was outside of my mouth. I sat a moment longer to simply know of what will happen to this very real me once I let it in.

In the moment, I thought, and in nothing of a panic but in all urgency, "I am a swimmer, how had things come to this!" The surface was far and I cared not to try and gauge how far. Without hesitation, I pushed off the bottom and tried to move my limbs and though slightly rested, they were heavy. As I was getting closer to the surface, my eyes were getting dimmer; I was passing out.

I decided that I had nothing left to give a panic, as I feared not making the surface. Panic was how things had come to this. I knew that I had become somehow more powerful than that urge to succumb to it, and that after experiencing my inner peace, I would rather die peacefully than ever panic again. In that instant, I gave all of me, the real me, to the task of reaching the surface. As my lips barely crested the surface, I pushed with wet noodles for limbs to try and get as much air as possible. I couldn't see much light at this point, but I did get a small amount of new air. It didn't feel like it was going to be enough, but the amount was all I could manage. It was enough to keep me from losing all consciousness.

I was still in trouble, but I was unwilling to die panicking, so I let my body hunch over and I floated face down for a few more seconds. I let the small amount of air out under water as its oxygen was used up real fast by my thirsty body, and the action itself was like a consoling gift to my body affirming everything it ever wanted in life. But I had to be sure I was going to be able to get more air this next time, so I waited longer than my body wanted me to before I turned my head and tried to fill my lungs. My whole body ached in the action and I was astonished by my lack of physical energy and how hard it was for me to move so little to get that half gulp of air.

I floated there a few moments longer resting then took more air. Mentally I was not looking back, I was just doing what I needed to do to keep getting air and remaining calm. I didn't stay longer than those breaths as I suddenly became aware of the many bodies splashing around me. They seemed so powerful and dangerous to me in my fragile condition. I looked up long enough to see that I was pointed at the side but I was still in the middle of the pool. Completely exhausted, I paddled with just my arms as my legs sagged under me while holding the last gulp of air.

As I reached the side and put my hands on the solid concrete edge of the pool, I took another full and less painful breath this time and then sunk down below the surface. There I rested with straight arms and with my hands ably on land.

I had made it; I was going to live.

As I hung there, the emotions came quickly and with unheeding force. They were anger, disgust, fear, and came to me as surprises bobbing to the surface in a great pool of sadness that had been with me throughout the experience. They were coming strong and fast now, so strong, I couldn't bear to be still in them any longer, so I tested my strength at heaving myself out of the pool for the chance to escape them. With feeble success, I rolled out onto the immovable surface.

My traumatizations was quickly becoming my reality and I needed to find more safety as this new emotional threat was bringing an urgency to my new position even though I had fought so hard to get myself there. I sloughed to my feet and took a quick forgiving glance at the lifeguards and other people; they had no idea what had just happened.

As soon as I began my needy walk back to the picnic table where my family was, I stopped in the realization of who was there with them. My mother had married a man recently and he was something to fear as much as what had just happened to me.

He was a fun-loving yet controlling man, a change from the mental cruelty my real father laced with his physical abuse. My stepfather would whip us on occasion with thin tree limbs, usually one to three of them cut from our mulberry tree in the front yard. The pain would be so violent that we would frantically run in place as he calmly counted his welting, stinging blows out loud. We learned the hard way and through repetition that if we were to let go of the bunk bed rail while he worked, he would then start the count over and begin again. So we did his bidding of holding our quivering, contorting little bodies in position for the continuous set of rhythmic insults. We would sometimes bleed, sometimes defecate, or urinate. I don't think he was interested at all in our bodily fluids and if they came out or not, and I wouldn't seek exploration of his mind for many years to come in order to find out. It was too horrible a place to look for a little boy.

We never could tell what was going to trigger this sudden violence from our step dad. It would just happen without any rhyme or reason, like some final decision he would come to out of the blue. As he would make the calm decision, it would be clear instinctively to the targeted kid and he or she would begin begging and crying like a baying hound, "Please nooo, please, Bill, nooooo", and the others kids would bow their heads for their fear of becoming targets themselves.

We lived on eggshells while in his presence and banded together in emotional support of each other at all times. All four of us were shy little kids, kind of like you see in old photos, or like Japanese kids in total submission. When we would witness rowdy kids, we would each stare in wonder as they threw tantrums or were mean to each other in any way, and my mother would gaze in pride. I realize now what that little smiling smirk was about on her face in times like that. She was proud of her respectful kids and judgmental of other kids and their parents. I don't really know what happened to her pride that would allow her to bring this man into our lives. From our naïve perspectives, life was fine before this marriage. It must have just been that hard to raise four kids on welfare and all by herself.

Each whipping episode was a lesson of a sickening wrong through my natural sensibilities, and at the same time it was affirmed as right by my parents. I think it may have been a bit confusing for me at the time.

So it was with this caution that I approached my family's table at the picnic and my mother in the presence of this man named Bill, my stepfather. I remember calmly telling my mother what had happened as to not upset anyone. I remember her disbelieving my claim and half laughing about it with a wave of her hand like I was telling a silly kid's story. She didn't seem mean, just disbelieving. She did love me and that was all I knew and needed. But my caution had masked my urgency, and I felt new fear of losing the comforting I desperately needed. So I tried again and with more realistic emotion in my words, only to draw a darting and disapproving glance from the man. That was enough to stop my advance. I wouldn't dare continue pressing the issue anymore for fear of upsetting my 475-pound, diseased stepfather.

This day became a touchstone in my life. It marked for me that I was truly on my own as a living body under these circumstances. I learned that love could be stolen from me through the use of hate, fear, and complacency; love that was supposed to be mine. It could be taken by a person mean enough to use fear as a way to control the people around him. He ate love like he ate food. It was like he could never get enough and he needed to eat everyone else's too.

That day I learned that all good things could be destroyed and that nothing was as certain as I had thought. A large amount of hope and wonder died in me that day. My mother chose to see what she wanted to see, rather than seeing me in my time of need.

It's interesting to me now how easily bound we become as we are the affect of life's woes. Each one of us exists so far beyond the aspects of our awareness. We are like icebergs with just the tips sticking out of the water and with the winds and water currents all vying with each other for control over our directions, and the magic of our awareness as a third force of its own intention of change and without a form to force or examine. Most of the time the water seems to have so much more influence than the air. But the water and air are only about physics. Our awareness as a power is about magic. With it we can balance the two physical aspects of the iceberg raising it high in the water, with more equal parts in and out of the water and air. As so we can find new powerful ways to wield our personal selves.

I had six years of life under my belt the first time I died. Though it was a difficult lesson to recover from and although it took me to many more trials of similar fate, it was a worthy lesson. It was a window to seeing myself living as well as dying all the time and at the same time. In my finding and living in this balance when I can, and much of the time I can, and through more examples of it in my life, I can honestly say now that these horrible and wonderful experiences are mine, and I wouldn't trade them for the whole world.

When you see someone in grief over a death, do not try to take it from them, or heal what is not diseased. Simply offer them any comfort that they need because we are all only children in need. There really is nothing to be done about grief save the expressing of it by each unique person. Living grief is in balance with living happiness; like living is to dying, and if we turn away from grief because it is uncomfortable or scary, it may sneak up on us and give us something real to fear rather than just fearing fear itself.

Fear can help us stay alive and yet keep us from living our lives to the fullest if dwell on it in grief.

Grief can help us keep living and yet can kill us from the inside out if dwelled on in fear.
Good grief, what are we to do but let it be.

Doug Taylor, copyright

Edited by IammyaspectofUs on 09/20/06 - 8:35 PM

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Posted 09/20/06 - 8:44 PM:

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Avatar Morgena
Posted 09/21/06 - 10:21 AM:

Dear Doug
At first let me say thank you for being so open and sharing your childhood experiences with us. I really appreciate what you had done here as I can imagine it wasn’t all so easy for you because childhood memories can trigger a lot of emotions, and some of them can deeply hurt.
To turn away from someone’s grief is something god thanks I had never done but I do know, some people can get very aggressive when having lost someone near to their heart. Perhaps I would stay a bit aside because everybody has a level of how much aggression he/she can coup with, but that doesn’t mean I am off and away.
Having experienced a rough childhood as well, I turned around thinking fin, and now I take the opportunity to change a few mistakes my mother did on me. The trick is not to fall into the same behaviour patterns like our parents used to do with us which of course requires some self-control, but if we don’t give up, there will be a fair chance to succeed.

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Posted 09/21/06 - 11:02 AM:

yes mam I understand well.

This is a story I have been working on for almost a week and personaly It was wonderfull for me to write.zen
But I post it here as an aspiring writer and seek critisizm on the whole of the story as well as reader review.grin

Did I add too much philosophical fluff at the end? that kind of stuff.

I know some of you have seen the worst of me lately, but let me asure you Morgena that my processes of change in myself, I must bragg, are very dynamic.
I never could have survived my life if I didn't learn to make personal change quickly. What I wrote here I am into deep layers of exploration of.
I am not a lazy person in these regards.takes a bow
All the same I thank you for your inspiring words.hug I greatly value your friendship morgena, you have helped me allot in my times of need. THnx honey

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Posted 09/21/06 - 12:42 PM:

i especially like this quote:
He ate love like he ate food. It was like he could never get enough and he needed to eat everyone else's too.
it paints a picture of something (that is to say, someone) very real to me.

i can also relate to the experience of (many times) empathetically "toning down" the emotion in my voice only to have the listener fail to realize the impact of what i was trying to express, of what i was suffering.

the writing is solid and compelling. i don't even know how to comment on the experiences themselves because they're so familiar to me; having almost drowned once in a swimming pool full of people, having been "whipped" numerous times in the manner you describe (once with a car antenna), having to mourn the loss of one's innocence to the hands of such sadistic cruelty. all i can say is that the descriptions are well written such that i can read them and nod, and say to myself, that is how it is.

i personally didn't find it to be too "fluffy" at the end. i would say that the philosophical aspects help to balance out the weight of the autobiographical material. also, by adding a moral to the story, it then becomes a fable, which is my favorite kind of story - it takes on a mythological quality which is, in part, what imbues it with so much emotional resonance. it offers some validation for the pain, which of course is not the same as compensation; there can be no compensation. but, at the very least, it realizes the transformation of that suffering into a poetic wisdom. that, to me, is what real art is about. nice work.

thumb uplib

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Posted 09/22/06 - 12:00 AM:

Thank you for all of that Libertygrl, that was amazing to me.
You blessed it, and me.
Thank you

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Posted 09/22/06 - 12:18 PM:


Great piece man. The title is obviously compelling. As I read the story I obviously tied the title to your experience in the pool, your near drowning. But, as you moved on to describe your relationship with your step father and how it got in the way of you receiving the much needed love and comforting at that moment I almost thought that this moment was another death of sorts (perhaps a second death or perhaps the death you were really intending to write about). That ambiguity for me is wonderful.

By the way, I also imensely enjoyed that little passage that Lib quoted previously and did read it more than once.




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Posted 09/22/06 - 1:36 PM:

Thanks Rudi
Rudi wrote:

As I read the story I obviously tied the title to your experience in the pool, your near drowning. But, as you moved on to describe your relationship with your step father and how it got in the way of you receiving the much needed love and comforting at that moment I almost thought that this moment was another death of sorts (perhaps a second death or perhaps the death you were really intending to write about). That ambiguity for me is wonderful.


I have to admit that I just got lucky there with that little accidental bonus as a writer and a person. I am not that skilled yet.
The real bonus for me was in two things really happening this way for me in they way they did.
I can be hard to teach in some ways and life kind of gave me a double whammy there just to make sure I got what it was offering and to give me more the depth to chew on that I guesse I also needed.

Kind of like an engineer over builds a structure as an added insurance that it will last through what may come that is beyond the norm of expectation.

The eating all the love line

Yeah my wife, my reluctant editor, said that was a good line too you guys.
I'm learning, thank you for the feedback you guys, it really helps me.

I am – thankful.
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Posted 10/21/06 - 11:51 AM:

Hey Doug, I'd also like to thank you for opening yourself in such a way.

I felt that the story weaved competently back and forth from observation to interpretation, and I didn't feel at any time that there was too much philosophy. In fact, I'd like to say about your above statement that you 'just got lucky' with the title: writing is art, and art depends on more or less equal parts technical skill and inspiration, with the balance tending to weigh more on the side of the latter. I personally believe that a writer understands his topic intrinsically, and therefore provides more meaning to the story than he intends, naturally. But even if this isn't true, writing is also about communication and empathy, and it's neither rare nor undesirable that your reader should see more, or something different, than you see. It means you've reached them. Congratulations.

So let me get technical.

I felt that the shifts in the very beginning between observed details and their importance fueled the impression of confusion, the terrible essence of that experience. Especially the "I" statements, all shifting from positive to frightening.
Similar to what Rudi said, I felt the echoes of another meaning in the text long before we actually understood what it meant, because of the imagery and the syntax - that's simply good writing. You've prepared your reader for what's coming, and when it comes, he understands it better.
The language was also particulary effective in describing the movement from the struggle to acceptance, resignation, and then movement again. Overall I'd say your strongest point, aside from deeply involving and well-considered subject matter, is your understanding and use of grammatical tools (sentence length and construction mostly) to support the mood.

I would say that the very last sentence was perhaps a bit too much, although I don't have a suggestion and I do think it needs some kind of closure there. But again, as per the earlier philosophising, I felt it to be instructive, rather than intrusive.

My other comments would be strictly material - check the placement of commas, and the meanings of some words, for example:
(locomotion, politely, good/well, eminent/imminent, slough)

Thanks again for the opportunity to read it, and if you've got more to share, please do. I'm looking forward to it.


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Posted 10/24/06 - 3:32 AM:

thumb up

You guys are intimidating, insofar everyone's contribution is thoughtful (perhaps wise) and very well stated. There are some smart cookies here.

I don't like the use of I, that is all I can say. This self-reference is redudant and takes away from the potential experience of the reader in the situation you yourself are relating. It interferes with the progression of natural empathy. I like it when I'm thrown into the story and am not pushed back by the narrator. The overuse of I seems to do that to me.


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Posted 10/24/06 - 3:21 PM:

Hey Ben, Hey Nihil Loc, I feel like I have received an award of some kind by everyone's responses.

I instinctively sense that I am receiving reviews and instruction in the orders of which are rare treasures of synergy as relevant to my needs and desires of becoming a writer and of ways beyond my ability to describe, but I'll give it a shot just to see what I can do.

I used to be a musician. I was blessed in having a very talented first teacher in the first days and years of that life. His passion for the maco and microcosms of theory, practice and experience, were holistic and excellent as was he as a living man. The foundation of simple elegant disciplines he offered me as a beginner were like starting a baby off with a worthy immune system in life and affirming the life skills to maintain it. Like he did, you are all offering me what I need to become what I want to become and without any limitations to what I may. Thank you from the whole of me.

(Gracious host passes me the award)

I would like to thank, and Microsoft word, for keeping me in the lines as I colored the first drafts. Most of all, my wife Cindy. She is a court reporter and edited the story for me as I stood behind her pulling out my hair in her every attempt to change anything. It worked out great in that all of the changes came through my voice even as she suggested what was undesirable or less than what cold be, helping refine this piece beyond my capabilities.

She changed my commas Ben. But now she said she did it too fleetingly and could have taken more time. I think it was because I was breathing down her neck.

You are right Ben; the art continues to create through the reader. I guesse that is what I desire most as it affirms me as an artist as well as everyone else. I am learning that more consciously through your suggestion, thanks.

It's like we are exactly the same, but totally different.

Nihil, one of the big lessons for me in my life, and that has set me free in many ways, has been in my realizing the differences between sympathy and empathy.

I have found freedom in making conscious decisions of sovereignty and respect relevant to those differences as I lived my life making decisions and having awareness socially.

In retrospect, the using of "I" was as you suggested, a way of holding back the reader to their perspective of living now rather than of this little boys sovereign experience, and affirming it as being only mine and only at that time. This was my sacred experience that I can never really be shared beyond what I offer it as.

Not even I can really relive it with respect to what I am capable of living now; it has past. The little boys experience was a sacred part of his life and holds a respect to that holistic nature, what he was then, and offering him the now as a clean slate to create on.

An experience that nobody but him can ever have which is a way of truly experiencing him as a sovereign being; the way he feels he was meant to be experienced by all others, even God.

Most of what I write is just what takes me to the place to really write what I want, who knows when that will happen, I'll just keep swimming and see what happens.

What do you guys think I could do with this story, is it publishable? I know nothing about the business of literature and fear the pitfalls; I can't move.

Edited by IammyaspectofUs on 10/24/06 - 4:33 PM
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