Don’t trust the water

“I stopped holding my breath.”

I didn’t grow up knowing how to swim. Most family vacations had taken me to places with pools and open water, and there were summer visits to beaches and water parks, but somehow, I never learned. Some of my siblings swam, and it was an even split between my parents, but it never took with me. And, despite it being a high school requirement, I managed to squeak by without taking a swim class.

College was a different story. A lingering single credit that I needed to graduate necessitated me finding a winter session course, and I voluntarily signed up for swimming. Maybe I had convinced myself that if I were ever in a shipwreck or a plane crash over water, this would be key to my survival. (That said, I was deeply paranoid at that time in my life of plane crashes, shipwrecks, and zombie attacks, all the things that television feeds your mind and lets you know that only the physically-able, the white, and the good-looking survive).

I signed up and then I tried to drop it, but it was too late to find something else, and so I went through it. Five days a week, 7 AM. During a winter session, do you know what is not warm at seven in the morning? A heated pool.

I had a head cold the entire time. I slept nine hours a night, so exhausted from daily one and a half hour sessions in the pool and a full day of work after, that I couldn’t keep my carcass out of bed past 9 PM. Our teacher also coached the varsity swim team and I swear he paced us the same way.

I was one of the top three students in the class. I’m competitive and athletic: I had every intention of getting A and acing swimming. I wanted to the butterfly and the breaststroke; in my mind, I was getting “competition-ready”… probably against a pack of slow 10-year olds, tops, but that didn’t matter. I swam for gold every single time I got into that pool.

Towards the end of the session, we came to an easy test: a trust jump. You see, many people didn’t swim because they were afraid of the water. Afraid that they would drop, that it wouldn’t hold them up, and sharks. The truth is that when you’re afraid, you tense up. When you tense up, you can’t float. And if you can’t float, you can’t swim. There is a mental place you need to get to, a place where you’re not fighting the water but instead you’re trusting it, trusting its buoyancy, and that you can work along with it.

Everyone in my class did their walk to past the five feet deep marker and jumped in. There was much whooping and laughter as one after one they jumped, feet first. And then it came to me, someone who now played in the deep-end sans fins, who side-stroked and dove under and–

I choked.

I couldn’t do it. I stepped back.

More classmates, up and out and in, some repeats – this was fun! And I couldn’t do it. I didn’t trust that my five foot seven frame wouldn’t hit feet first, so hard, at the bottom and that I’d break my legs. I know what I had been told; I know what I had already seen other people do, but me? No. No, I couldn’t.

Finally, I was the last one left to go. I wanted that A, but… My coach tried to gently coax me in, but it didn’t work. My classmates crowded around me, not pushing or mocking, but cheering me on, cheering me, the one who was first in the water and last out every class, the one with the indomitable spirit, and they were cheering for me, cheering for me to do this, and–

I jumped in. My feet never touched the bottom! Holy–

(I stopped holding my breath).

So, when my friend asked me why my break up with you hit me so hard, all I could tell was that story:

  1. I stopped holding my breath with you.
  2. I jumped in feet first.
  3. And you broke every single bone in my body.

(Don’t ever trust the water).

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