Millennium Memoir
Moon and Stars . .

12.21.1999

Swimmer

I love to swim. I love to dive into deep pools of blue water and move smoothly, almost effortlessly from one end to the other of the basin, watching sunbeams slice through the water around me. I love to float, held up by gentle waves, rocked back and forth in complete relaxation. One of the animals I often thought I might like to reincarnate as when I was a teen was the dolphin.

But this has not always been so.

I first learned to swim in the pond at my grandparent's farm between the ages of four and six. I distinctly remember being able to swim for short distances by about age six. But somehow I managed to forget how to swim between that time and when we began swimming lessons at school.

Perhaps it was the near-drowning incident I had while attending a first-grade birthday party at Jessica's house. After an afternoon of games, we all hopped into the pool and I got tired of wearing my water wings, took them off and then like an idiot started walking down the slope of the shallow end towards the deep end to see how far I could walk before the water went over my head. I took one step too far and plunged straight down to the bottom.

I remember lying there near the bottom of the pool look up at the legs of my classmates wriggling and kicking above me. I knew they were shouting and laughing up there, but beneath the water all was silent and peaceful. When I finally hit bottom, I was already running out of breath but had just enough presence of mind to kick off of the tiles and push towards the light. I popped up like a cork, struggled for air and made a desperate grab for the side of the pool. I missed and went back under. Now I was starting to panic. When I bobbed back up, I knew I wouldn't be able to get enough air to make it back to the surface a third time and the side of the pool was too far away. None of the grown-ups was paying any attention.

Luckily for me, the pool was quite crowded and one of the boys in my class swam within reach. I grabbed ahold of his arm and hung on for dear life. He started yelling at me to let go and I started crying and begging for help because I couldn't swim. He gave me a tow over to the edge of the pool and then hopped out and hauled me up with both hands. He then reamed me over one for swimming in the deep end when I couldn't swim and hopped back into the pool while a flopped, exhausted onto my towel, coughing up small amounts of water, but happy to be on my safe, sun-warmed expanse of terry cloth.

Not a single one of the adults even noticed that I was ever in trouble.

We started swimming lessons at Longchamps, the local pool,during the third grade. I had a terrible time with the lessons. I was uncoordinated, my upper arms were weak and I had trouble floating.

Much as I loved the water, I hated swim lessons especially when the time came to pass our distance certificates. Most of my classmates were already on their 100 meter certificates by the time I passed my 25 meter certification in the 4th grade. Passing the 25 earned me rights to the big pool instead of wallowing with the other little kids in the baby pool.

By fifth grade I'd finally managed to pass the 50 meter certificate, but even then, my crawl stroke was a painful thing to watch. I just could not coordinate the breathing and always wound up coughing up water and getting hair in my eyes despite my swim cap.

Getting dressed after swimming was also a pain. I had extremely long hair and unless I kept it tightly braided it would sneak out all over the place, get caught in my clothing or give me a cold when we went back outside in the winter. To boot, we always had races to see which room could get ready first: boys or girls, so everyone was always trying to get dressed as quickly and efficiently as possible. I started choosing my clothes and shoes carefully for swim days and developed a system for getting in and out of my bathing suit and packing the whole lot up after class.

Despite my failures in actual swim class, I still loved the water and my parents had a hard time getting my brothers and I out of the ocean when we went to the beach in the summer. In fact, I think I learned more about swimming and floating with my Dad in the warm waters off Nantucket than I ever did in the Longchamps swimming pool. There was no pressure to learn quickly, no need to hurry and do better than anyone else at the beach. I could just lie there with Dad's hand under my back and finally relax, really learn to float and just enjoy the feeling of the water holding me up.

The day that I finally learned to float for good, I didn't even notice that Dad had taken his hand away. I was floating all by myself and it didn't take long for the rest of my swiming ability to catch up.

My favorite stroke is still breaststroke, mostly because while I have no problems with the movements, I still have a little problem coordinating the breaths. Butterfly is my current nemesis -- I have no trouble with it under water, but I can't get enough push with my arms to get a good breath above the water line.

I can however hold my breath underwater for a very long time. Hence my favorite way to swim is completely submerged. I've scared more than my fair share of lifeguards, because I go down and stay down, swimming back and forth, doing all my laps underwater.

I still pretend I'm a dolphin, opening my eyes and wriggling more than stroking my way from one end of the pool to the other.

Oddly enough, I also enjoy letting myself sink to the bottom, though that's gotten harder and harder as I've gotten older and fatter and better at floating. I like to lie there on the bottom now, watching the world above me go by in the silence and the deep blue peace.

I passed my life guard certification in the summer of 1992, after I graduated from high school. I spent that summer and the one following it temp guarding at local private pools.

It's been a while now since I swam with any kind of regularity. But when I shut my eyes, I can still see the blue, feel it seeping into my bones and then the hankering for a good swim comes over me, but I have nowhere go.

Moonlit Trees . .

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