I was eight years old. My teeth spilt wantonly out of my mouth, refuting order and containment. I had legs all the way up to my armpits.
“You have beautiful legs. So shapely.” says a strange lady at the swimming pool. I blush, completely unaware of my body, unaware of how it’s all pinned together. Many years later I think, “What an odd thing to say to an eight year old.”
I love the water, the element of my dreams. Underwater dreams, enveloped in a thrumming quiet and staring at a soluble spot of light somewhere far, far above me. Dreams of swirling in indigo, cyan and azure.
I was eight years old when I learnt to swim.
I was seven years old when I actually learnt to swim, but I spent a year convincing myself that I couldn’t swim without armbands.
My obsessive, elemental love for water warred with the fear that it would not let me come up for air. The fear that I might not be embraced back.
I feared sinking like a miserable, unworthy pebble.
“You can swim!” My uncle’s hearty, commanding, teacher’s voice booms at me. I ignore him, wading sullenly in the shallow end, desperately concealing my need to believe him. I float, infatuated by the lightness of my body against the gentle ripples. I want this so badly. Almost an entire summer vacation spent in longing, fighting diffidence and knowing that this need consumed me.
“Of course you can swim!” he boomed again.
In retrospect, I blame my waterlogged ears. My ears were practising being a mermaid’s ears that summer. I didn’t register the waves, the discreet splash created by his legs as they powered through to me in my shallow end sanctuary.
In a sharp, unmeditated move, I was wrenched from my safe, aquatic quiet and flung through the air.
I recall with masochistic clarity, the brutality of my limbs crashing through the glassiness, plummeting like a pebblestonerock, heavy, stubborn and unmoving. Water within. Water without. Wide open eyes. The beauty in murky green.
I was here. I was here. I had always known that I would be here. I had seen this all before.
No breath. No breath. No breath.
Panic and movement in oneness. I kick. I slice. I punch with my arms all the way to the soluble spot. I splutter in the sunlight and my indignant rage fuels these now familiar motions. Push, heave, kick and lift. Furious, powerful arms and aqualungs.
I manage to swim to the other side of the pond. I drag myself up to my full height, a few inches immediately added on by wrath; by exhiliration.
“You BASTARD! You awful brute!” I splutter.
I will never forget the absolute glee on his face, the unrestrained heart in his laugh and the droplets clinging to his beard.
What I have forgotten over time is the force of that untiring faith.
I’m still there, on that diffident edge, dying to be brave. So brave that I’m willing to fail. Waiting for that push from the arms that won’t let me drown. Yet, at 35, I’m too old to be thrown into the deep.
A woman of a certain age, she needs to learn to propel herself.