Sunday, August 9, 2009

Swimming and Smiling and Pretty Is As Pretty Does

Swimming and Smiling and Pretty Is As Pretty Does

When I was twelve, in the summer between my 7th and 8th grade years of junior high school, I had a swimming accident. I was knocked unconscious in the water.

Before I lost consciousness, I was aware that something had just happened. I wasn’t sure what but I knew I was sinking and I knew that the red in the water was my blood. I remember trying to swim up to the light as I sank deeper. I had no time nor thought to think of anything else; just to push my arms through the water, and kick to move higher to get to the light. I knew I’d make it if I got to the light. I remember, how the water looked and swirled red with blood, and I remember sinking, but I don’t remember thinking I was drowning, or actually possibly dying. I watched the red water float around me, my eyes were wide open, and as I lost consciousness, I remember my limbs were heavy. It didn’t bother me, that I could no longer climb through the water, that I was sinking. It was strangely peaceful.

That image has haunted me my whole life. It’s funny how on a clear blue day, the memory will swiftly flutter through my mind, and I still wonder what that peace was that took hold of me, how could I have given up. I question if at the age of 12, I could not process what was going on, or does death come to everyone in that way.

That accident shattered my face. I do not remember what the guy looked like that pulled me from my grave and administered CPR. I do not remember the doctors. I do remember a brief moment of the blinding lights in the operating room. I remember my mother crying. I remember wondering what was wrong and where and what this place was. I didn’t know what doctors in scrubs and masks looked like, nor an operating room.

With a broken jaw, cheekbone, nose, and an upper lip in pieces, I’ve often thought the guy that saved my life had to have been one of God’s own Angels. I’m not sure whether I could help anyone in the exact way that he helped me. My own son, at the age of 5 had a bicycle accident resulting in blood all over his face; and I reacted first by vomiting.

As a child, I thought that I would grow up and be as beautiful as my Barbie dolls. I was going to be a model, or a movie star; people constantly fed my enormous ego with remarks about my stunning beauty.

My sister was very cruel and called me names that referred to my hideous scarred face. But then, she was my sister, and my older sibling by 4 years. Siblings can be cruel; it’s just natural. However, because of that ribbing, I learned to smile.

I smiled all the time. I felt like I was hiding the ugly face when I smiled. When people stared, I smiled back at them. Then, like a miracle straight from God above, they smiled back at me. It is amazing how powerful a tiny, little smile can be.

I no longer thought I would be a model, or a movie star, or beautiful. My head and face was as big as a watermelon for 3 months. And for 3 months, the only place I would leave the confines of my bedroom for was the local public swimming pool, the scene of the accident. I got there late, after everyone was gone and the pool was closed, the managers would let me in to swim while they cleaned up the pool area. I would go two or three times a week, I was determined to take back my courage and whatever else the water had stolen from me.

I have since undergone several surgeries, and no one would ever know, unless I told them.

My point to this story: pretty is as pretty does.
Smile and the whole world smiles with you.


  1. Wow, Terri! I had no idea. Your face is beautiful - isn't it amazing how God heals? This is such an emotional post. The scene of you in the water is so visual.

    And now I know why everything is "smile."

    This is such an inspirational story. You should develop it and bring it to critique. There are many publications that buy inspirational 1st-person stories like this. The Chicken Soup For the Soul books are my first thought. Check out their web site - and look under the "Submit Your Story" menu item. You can find guidelines there. They list topics too, but that doesn't mean that is all they are looking for. You submit your story, and if they like it, they'll hold until they have a place for it. Just a thought.

  2. Thank you for the comments and encouragement. I don't know why I posted this, it's so personal. I will work on the courage to submit it to the Chicken Soup folks or anyone else for that matter! Even bringing it to critique would cause me to think twice. It seems that everything changes when you expose a vulnerability, especially one you keep hidden for the most part!