I’d never really experienced it before, although it’s become a trope and a joke ever since “The Matrix” came out: Bullet time– when everything slows down and you enter a period of heightened awareness. In that state, you have the perception that everything goes crystalline and sharp, that time creeps along instead of whizzing by.
I could have lived without it quite happily, muddling along with my sense of time just ticking along in normal mode. My perceptions are already skewed from the norm with my acute sense of smell; I didn’t need another sense going hyperactive on me.
A week ago, though, my little boy celebrated his third birthday. We drove down to San Antonio, just hubs and I and the two littlest boys, and stayed in an RV park. Part of our exploration of the park was a quick examination of the pool. We weren’t planning on swimming– we were all fully dressed. I was just going to allow the boys to take their shoes off and dip their feet in the water. I took off my sandals and stepped onto the first step. The water was fairly cold, considering how hot the day had been. And then I saw the leap out of the corner of my eye– a quick flash of toddler body flying through the air– and I heard the splash. And bullet time started.
The Tank, in typical headlong fashion, had jumped into the pool. The water was about four feet deep. I had enough time to see that my husband was too far away to reach him in time. I spotted the other child still on the first step, safely standing upright. I watched the baby sink down into the water without any hint that he was going to re-surface. He looked like he was headed for the bottom to stay. His blonde hair floated out behind him. I had enough time to panic. I didn’t see any bubbles rising, so I hoped he was holding his breath. I wondered if I’d be able to reach him in time. Then I jumped in after him.
All of that took less than a second.
Then I grabbed him and yanked him up out of the water and heaved him up onto the deck (with a little help from hubs on the heaving part) and lurched out of the water enough to pound him on the back and demand that he cough, breathe, and show us that he hadn’t inhaled any water. He had the most awful expression on his face with his little mouth screwed up in terror and discomfort. After another second that seemed to last for an eternity, he sucked in a breath. Another couple breaths, and some of my terror abated. He hadn’t inhaled any water. He was okay.
And I was standing waist-deep in cold water, wearing purple and gray dress. My hair was wet in the back. My clothes were soaked. But the baby was breathing normally, no pints of chlorinated water having to be pumped out of his chest. A major score.
It seemed like the entire thing had taken place over fifteen minutes, but hubs assures me that it took no more than a minute for the whole thing to transpire. He claims that he heard my splash into the water just mere seconds after the Tank’s 50 lb body hit the water. It didn’t seem that way. It seemed more terrible than belief. It seemed that I had this monumental decision to make– what should I do? I don’t remember making the decision, but I remember knowing that there WAS a decision. It just wasn’t a decision that you could screw up. It was a pass/fail moment.
Before I’d even gotten out of the pool, the Tank was insisting that his father peel off his wet clothing. Then he asked if he could go back into the “pond.” Whatever terror and fear that he’d felt when he was sinking, he almost immediately discarded it.
I wasn’t nearly as resilient. It took me a good hour before my nerves stopped jangling, and it sent my anxieties and stress levels through the roof. I’m still trying to get myself back to normal. He was pretty blase about the whole thing, though. The only hint that he’d been concerned at all came later that night, when he talked to his oldest sister on the phone. Then, his story changed. “I fell in the pond,” he explained sweetly.
And I found out what it’s like when time slows down to a slushy semi-solid and death looms before you. I can see how some people could get addicted to that rush, to the sense of being outside of reality. But I won’t be one of those people.
Frankly, it scared me half to death.