“Deep Water” is an autobiographical essay by William O. Douglas that recounts his traumatic experience with water as a child and his subsequent journey to overcome his fear of it.
The story begins with Douglas recalling a traumatic experience at a beach in California when he was three or four years old. A strong wave knocked him down, leaving him terrified of the water. Later, at the age of ten, he decided to learn swimming at the YMCA pool, thinking it would be safer than the Yakima River.
Douglas began to learn to swim using water wings at the shallow end of the pool. Just as he was gaining confidence, an older boy, probably thinking it was a harmless prank, threw him into the deep end. Douglas sank, and even though he tried to push off the bottom and reach the surface, he couldn’t. The experience was horrifying: he felt trapped, suffocated, and panicked. He went through moments of extreme terror before he blacked out.
When Douglas regained consciousness, he was lying by the pool, having been saved from drowning. But the traumatic incident left a deep mark on him. He developed a phobia of water. Even the sight or sound of water would remind him of that terrifying moment, and he would stay as far away as possible.
As Douglas grew older, he realized he didn’t want to live with this debilitating fear for the rest of his life. Determinedly, he decided to face his fear head-on. He hired an instructor and, over months, learned to swim again. He practised diligently, first with the support of a rope around his waist and then independently. Over time, he mastered his fear and even went on to swim in lakes and rivers.
Douglas reflects on his experience, drawing a distinction between the actual act of dying, which he believes is peaceful, and the fear of death, which he found terrorizing. The story serves as a testament to the human spirit’s ability to overcome even the most paralyzing fears, emphasizing the importance of confronting one’s fears directly.
“Deep Water” isn’t just a personal recounting; it’s a broader commentary on fear, resilience, and the potential for personal growth and transformation.