How I Write the Darkness

night-swimmingWe are what we write, or so I am told.

Some people have been reading the advanced pages of STORMFRONT and have mentioned that some of the most potent scenes are also the darkest, which I believe is true of life. We so often remember the toughest moments, rather than the blissful ones. My mother always accused me of this. She said I had zero memory when she would list the NINE-ZILLION places she took me as a kid, but all I remembered vividly were the darker points in my life.

That said, I believe our past defines who we are as people. If you haven’t gotten that from UNDERTOW, you are missing the point.

The characters of the UNDERTOW series are who they are because of what they have lived through, what they learn about their families, and who they WANT TO BE because of all that they have experienced. When I write for them, I write from a visceral place inside my mind, and draw forward some of those memories that are forever burned into my memory.

What I am about to relay is a true story that only a few people actually know about. If you know the people involved, I ask that you not mention their names. It is also one of many reasons I believe in God and the endless connection we as people have with one another. A link between souls, both here and gone, which is a theme I also bring to the novels. Some will call what happened that night shear luck. Other will call it fate or the will of God. Some will call it the act of a guardian angel.

But here’s the thing – I believe all those possibilities are one and the same. We as humans simply call them by various names. Here’s one of my more vivid memories:

On a hot summer night when I was eight years old, I had been swimming with a dear pal in my family’s above ground pool. As the time rolled on towards 9pm, my friend knew he needed to get home soon. He climbed out of the pool, while my neighbor, a very nice father of two young kiddos, wandered into my yard. His wife and his two children were back at his home in the AC, his kids asleep in bed.

I asked him, in my best, non-nagging eight-year-old voice, if he wanted to come swimming. At first he said “no thanks”, but then he felt how warm the water was with a sweep of his hands and he changed his mind. My mother, learning that our neighbor was going to swim with me, said I could stay in the pool.

Safety in numbers, after all.

He changed into his bathing suit and returned, jumping into our pool. Now, being as it was dark outside, my father had rigged a spotlight to a nearby tree and it illuminated half the pool, but left the edged in shadow. It was favorite thing to do – night swim.

My neighbor continued to jump in, and I would go under the water to see the bubbles he created as they floated past the slants of liquid light. I found it beautiful and I told him he should open his eyes under water to see how pretty it was. He said he couldn’t. That he had contacts, which I had never heard of. I didn’t even know what they were, but for some reason he couldn’t open his eyes under the water.

He climbed to the top of the stairs to jump again and I went under the water to wait for the bubbles.

But after several long seconds, there were no bubbles nor any splash.

I came up from the water and stood in the middle of the pool, looking around. My neighbor was gone, but I figured he was playing a joke. I pulled myself up on the edge of the steel pool and looked on the outside and around my dark yard. I can still feel the ridges in the white rail tops of the pool and how they were so much colder than the air. I scooted back down into the water and started crossing to the ladder, when I finally saw a figure under the darker corner of the pool.

It was my neighbor, hiding under water, waiting to scare me. But then I realized he seemed to be partly floating, just off the surface of the pool floor and his body rolled over.

His eyes were open, looking at me, and I realized something was terribly wrong. I hauled myself out of the pool and ran at full speed for my house, and I can remember feeling every cut of the bull-briars, the sand, the acorns, and how the flood lights at the back of the house felt blinding.

I ran inside, yelling for my mom, and found her in the bathroom, doing something to her face – cream or something.

I started saying my neighbor was under the water, wasn’t coming up. I said it over and over, and finally it clicked with my mom and she screamed for my dad.

My friend, who was inside, realized what was going on and sat on the couch, tears in his eyes. My dad ran through the house, slamming through the backdoor and I watched out the kitchen window as he reached, over the side of the above-ground pool, and hauled a full grown man out of the water and down to the ground. To this day, he said he felt a presence with him that gave him the incredible strength to pull him from the water.

He started CPR and my mom was on the phone with 9-1-1.

I remember hearing a woman yelling and I saw his wife, running from her house through her yard and into mine, and that’s when I finally sat next to my friend.

The rest of the night is more blurry.

My friend was taken home by his poor mom, who nearly had a heart attack when she saw the ambulance. AT some point, my mom told me to go and wait with my neighbor’s sleeping children (2 and 4) even though I was only 8.

I didn’t cry, didn’t let reality sink in. I remember laying on an old couch at my neighbor’s house, still in my bathing suit, and watching my mom call people from his telephone.

Several other close friends arrived, and they sat around the wooden table, illuminated only by an amber-colored light that hung from the ceiling. They were calling down a prayer list.

I don’t remember going home, or anything else, except this: He survived, though he was in a coma for a while.

He had suffered a massive aneurism and had slipped into the pool with me, which was why I never heard the bubbles. Had he been home, his wife would have assumed he fell asleep in a chair. He probably would have died.

There were many acts of grace that summer night – fate, as some would say, lining up perfectly to save a young father’s life.

For me however, God intervened the moment my neighbor changed his mind and decided to swim with his nagging, eight-year-old neighbor.




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