I don’t know how to swim. Put me in water over my head and there’s a pretty good chance I’ll drown.
Don’t ask my why because I don’t have an answer. The closest thing to a swimming lesson I ever had came at the age of 12 when my mother enrolled me in a beginner’s swimming class filled with 6 to 8 year olds. I was embarrassed and angry and frustrated that the pool officials wouldn’t put me in the teen swimming class even if I was a year too young and I was even more angry that my mother thought a swimming class with 6 to 8 year olds was what I meant when I said I wanted to learn how to swim. The class served only to solidify my hatred for putting my head under water and fueled my passion for writing angry teen poetry.
Prior to age 12, various stepfathers and a stepbrother spent time threatening to throw me into a body of water where I would surely figure it out. They were convinced my survival instincts would kick in and just like that I’d be a swimming machine. It’s a small miracle that I survived.
At 16 I got my first set of contact lenses. I became convinced that, if I let water splash my face, I would lose a contact lens, get turned around while out in the ocean and mistake the horizon for the shore. The ocean would pull be out to sea and I’d either drown or get eaten by whales.
So here I am: 26, unable to swim and pretty much terrified of any water that’s more than 5 feet deep.
Every time I go to the beach it’s the same thing. My friends go out in the ocean and show off their stupid swimming skills while I splash around on the shore acting like I’m totally content to take pictures and hunt for sea shells. They yell for me to get in the fucking ocean already and every time I squawk back about how I’m busy and fine and don’t want to get in the water because it’s cold and wet and oceany so leave me the fuck alone you swimming assholes.
This time I wanted it to be different. I was determined. With my laser-corrected eyes I knew I wasn’t going to end up losing a lens and swimming out to sea to be eaten by whales. I still couldn’t swim, but I desperately wanted to get in the water. And I did. Someone brought a boogie board and I took it out to sea with me. Instead of freaking out and yelling at everyone to leave me alone, I listened. I went.
The ocean floor dropped out from beneath me and I kept going. Andrew and the boys were there. My breath kept getting caught in my throat and I screamed every single time the board shifted and I felt like I would sink to the bottom, but I was okay. I didn’t drown.
The boys kept asking if I was joking with my pathetic feet kicking and terrified screams. I assured them that no, I wasn’t. At 26, I’d never been out that far before. I’d never not been able to touch the ocean floor. I’d never been that brave.
There’s some sort of hidden meaning here, I’m sure. Some sort of message from the Universe. Something to do with my need for control and firm footing and how sometimes it’s okay to let go and let the world hold you up. I’m taking it as what I know it to be: a fist in the face of fear.