"If you're not going to hire a swimming instructor, will you at least make out a will?"
|Learning to Swim
A year after I smoked my last cigarette, I began to wonder if the health benefits were being out-weighed by the thickness of my waist. When my size thirty-six pants no longer fit, I decided it was time to do something about it.
One morning my wife watched as I struggled into my pants, her usual smile turned into a thoughtful frown. “A new YMCA gym just opened in town.”
“Really?” I looked at her and wondered. Is she suggesting something?
Yes, she was. Later that day she came home with two brand-new membership cards to the local YMCA and announced, “It’s time we both did something about our weight.”
And we did. Six months later I had shed thirty pounds, and she lost fifteen. I never felt better. Going to the gym and eating right had become a way of life for us both. We developed a regular exercise routine. Arrive home from work, change, head to the gym for an hour and a half of weight training twice a week. Two days a week were devoted to cardio work. After six months it was a routine, and like most routines, it began to get boring. Wash…rinse…repeat.
I began looking for ways to ’kick it up a notch.” I searched for a new exercise routine, something that would renew my enthusiasm and get my blood pumping—and one day I found it. Signing in at the gym one afternoon I saw the notice tacked to the wall. Triathlon, May 31st…sign up here. I did.
At home that night I read the race literature. The event seemed daunting at this point, but I had no doubt I could complete the half mile, open-water swim, followed by a ten-mile bike ride, and then finish with a 5K run. Piece of cake, I thought as I put the pamphlet aside.
“You’re going to do what?” My wife’s eyes bulged in horror, “But you can’t swim.”
“Of course I can swim,” I said confidently, “I’ve been swimming all my life.”
“Really?” She tilted her head, “Then why is it that when we go to the beach you’re afraid to go into water deeper than your knees?”
“Critters…there’s critters in the water, that’s why. I can swim.”
Early Saturday morning I was off to the YMCA pool for my first swim practice with my wife in tow. She wanted to watch the, ”Spectacle,” as she put it.
“Fine with me,” I told her, “I’ll be happy to prove that I’m right.”
The water was perfect. We were the only people there; not even a ripple stirred the pool surface. I dropped into the cool water and adjusted my goggles, took a couple of deep breaths. Filled with confidence, I shoved off…but I didn’t go far. My arms stroked furiously, I kept my face above the surface of the water—I had to breath you know—and my toes dragged the bottom of the pool. I struggled for a third of the way across the sixty-foot pool, and then I sank like a stone.
“What was that?” my wife asked when I returned and held onto the edge of the pool, panting and gasping for breath.
“That was swimming,” I gurgled, “I’m really out of practice.” I turned to face the water again.
“That was not swimming,” my wife said between fits of laughter.
“I’ll get better, I just need a little more practice.”
“Honey,” she said patiently, “stop and think a minute. The swim for the race is in the ocean—open water. That means it will be very deep. You grew up in a big city, there was no place for you to learn how to swim.”
”I…can…swim,” I said emphatically. “There’s plenty of time to practice, I’ll be ready.”
“You’re going to die…you’ll end up as fish food.” I couldn’t believe she was laughing so hard.
I pushed off and started across the pool, determined to show her how wrong she was. My arms thrashed, I tried to keep my mouth above water, and my toes scraped along the pool bottom, again. This time I made it less than a third of the way across before I began choking on water.
We left for home shortly afterward, my wife was still convinced I was going to die, and I was confident in my ability to swim. That night my wife suggested that I find someone to teach me to swim.
“I don’t need a teacher,” I said, my voice full of confidence, “I know how to swim.”
“Okay, then,” she thought for a second, “If you’re not going to get a swimming instructor, will you please at least make out a Will?”
“Very funny, ha..ha,” I said, “I’m just a little out of shape, I’ll practice for a while, then I’ll show you.”
“I know just the person,” she grabbed the phone book, “Kathy’s husband is a swimming instructor, I’ll call Kathy.”
“No you won’t,” I said, “that’s a waste of money. I just need to practice.”
That night, as I tried to sleep, my wife’s doubts began to niggle at me, I decided there was only one way to quell those doubts. I would go for a swim—in the ocean.
The round, red sun hung just above the horizon, my toes clenched the wet sand, and I coached myself. You can do it…you can swim, I said into the on-coming breeze.
I took the first tentative steps into the dark water. When the water was up to my waist I looked over my shoulder at the receding shore line and forced myself to move forward. I asked myself...can you really do this or are you just fooling yourself? I took two more steps toward the cresting waves. I felt my body tense. I took another step forward.
A wave, higher than the one’s before it, came at me from nowhere. I tumbled backwards and went under. The sound of rushing water surrounded me. My back scraped against the rough sandy bottom. I tried to stand up, but lost my footing and went under again. The waves were coming faster now. I tried to swim, but instead I grabbed at the bottom. Flailing my arms, I tried to find the surface.
Turbulent water swirled around me as my foot hit the bottom and I was able to stand. I choked up salt water. Focusing my eyes, I saw that I was halfway back to shore. As I slowly walked to the beach I wondered what would have happened if the tide was going out, instead of coming in.
My wife stood at the front door when I arrived home. Her smile faded as she put her hand on my shoulder and arched her eye brows. “Your back is scraped…what happened?” Her voice was laced with concern
“I’m Fine,” I mumbled, “I slipped and fell, it’s nothing serious.” I went to the shower. I spent the rest of day thinking about the morning’s experience, and by bedtime serious doubts about my ability to swim were swirling in my mind.
That night, as I lay in bed listening to my wife’s rhythmic breathing, I wondered how she could sleep. I tossed and turned, pictured swimming in my mind, and thought about the movements. I don’t know what time it was when I finally fell asleep.
I don’t remember much about the dream, but I remember I was not able to breath. I woke up gasping for breath, soaked with sweat. Laying there in the dark I began to think about how deep the water would be, and I thought about how I couldn’t swim twenty feet in the pool yesterday. And then I thought about drowning, really drowning.
It must have been just before dawn when the realization flickered in my mind, but by the time the sun streamed through the window I was convinced…I didn’t know how to swim. My wife opened her eyes and looked at me across the badly rumpled sheets.
“How did you sleep?” She nuzzled her curls into her pillow and waited for my answer.
“Not too good,” I said.
“I can’t swim…I’m going to die.”
“Want me to call Kathy, see if her husband is available?"
“Yeah, that’s a good idea.” I couldn’t believe I didn’t hear an I-told-you-so.
“I’ll call her later…now stop worrying.”
Word count 1406
June 16, 2011