I was 4 or 5 years old the day we drove to the lake not far from home. Mom, despising the sun in her red-headed, freckled glory, donned a massive straw hat and fled for the shade once she pointed me in the right direction.
I was scared. I walked to the instructor and waded into the water behind him. I was shocked by the sharp chill of the ankle-deep water, then felt the lip of the dock’s ramp where it began to rise.
My eyes stayed down at the faded grey slats moving with the weight of our steps. Droplets of water splashed from the wide tawny feet of the stranger in front of me and he moved to the main part of the dock, pulling me like a magnet.
We moved to the edge of the dock, looking at the sunbathers reclined on the beach. Mom waved a pasty arm, blotchy with sunblock.
I was told what the first step of the lessons were, and my stomach dropped. I saw my mom rush away into the distance, felt miles out to sea, wondered whether I’d touch the bottom of the lake, wondered whether I’d touch anything else alive in there once I got in.
My instructor waited for me, told me I would have to decide whether to jump in or be tossed in.
I looked at the water, thinking that it in no way reflected the sparkling name on the entrance sign.
I felt a hand on my upper arm.
Being that my toes were already hanging over the edge of the dock, this pressure rocked me so I reflexively gripped the wood with my toes, pushing softened splinters into my boney feet.
I took a deep breath, and jumped before the decision was made for me.
Cold water snapped at my hot skin as I wriggled around for my bearings, touching nothing.
A second later, tacky thick earth slid around my big toe, so I let myself sink until both feet could touch the ground, bent my knees, and pushed back up towards the sky.
Out of fear, not bravado, I opened my eyes to see grey bubbles bursting above me as I approached the surface.
I broke though and gasped, the pain of holding my breath in such cold for so long making me feel weak and weepy.
Until I realized I was swimming. In a way.
I moved myself by thrashing about all the way to the dock, shoving a skinny arm out of the water and slapping it down onto my wooden savior.
I could float. I’d be okay.
Over the years I spent many a summer day at the same lake. I’d sun and swim, splash and do handstands letting only my feet poke out through the water’s surface, deliberately swim long lengths under water, eyeing little fish as I slid by.
I still relished running through lawn sprinklers, despite the fact that sprinklers made in the 1970’s and 80’s all had razor-sharp pieces on them that inevitably cut someone’s toe every time it was used for play.
I delighted in turning the hose nozzle on mist, propping it in the crook of our baby dogwood tree, and gently cooling myself off on a lazy summer afternoon.
I marveled at the beautiful clear blue pools of friends’ homes or hotels that made everything feel so bleached and clean.
But nothing ever compared to swimming in lakes, ponds and oceans with their temperamental temperatures, fishy accompaniments, and natural sensibilities.
All I had to do to discover this love was to just jump in and find a way back up.
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This post was written for The Red Dress Club Memoir writing prompt.
The prompt went like this:
This week the prompt was a photo intended to take us back in time. Behold:
This hose made me think of how crazy it was that when I was a kid, we were taught to swim by getting tossed into mucky lakes and told to not sink. yet now we have one-on-one-swimming lessons with specialized floating vests and all sorts of apparatus.
Boy how times have changed.
I once wrote about my fear of mixing my kids with water, and I will say that I think I am getting a (tiny bit) better. I may even take them to the pool this summer more than once.