• Vol. 10
  • Chapter 04
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To Swim

I first learned to swim at a day camp for kids whose parents either didn’t know what to do with them when there wasn’t school or didn’t like any of the options. Each morning I’d sit on a mustard yellow school bus, the kind with torn faux-leather seat cushions and windows with no locks, and travel to parts both unknown and unwanted. My Hello Kitty backpack both advertised my shame and held a change of clothes and a Ziplock. Mold and mildew were not permitted at home. At first, my legs would dangle in too-cold waters as I sat on too-rough concrete ledges. My undersized bathing suit bottoms had developed an oversized case of acne as the once-smooth Lycra turned into a teen’s worst nightmare. I chose the deep end mainly so that I’d have to look at nobody (and where nobody could see me). I mastered the butterfly, the backstroke, and the breaststroke. Freestyle my literal coming of age. I overcame my fear of water the same summer I realized my parents weren’t what I (or they) had bargained for. I climbed underwater ladders and earned a crimson polo. The embroidered logo read Lifeguard in Training.

Though the water became more friend than foe, I never could make heads or tails of who or whom I trained and what or what for. Tense was often as relative as the temperature. Shade and shaded were often more than several degrees apart. To tread water had always meant something different than treading. To want has never been isolated to the human condition. Land and water lifeforms have always wished for more. Goggles were coveted; Google was still unknown. I learned to allay young campers’ tears and to collect allies – all at once. I taught my fair share of sidestroke. I added swim caps and other paraphernalia to my backpack. The lifeguard stand became my platform. “You can do this” my mantra. The phrase “Do not run” a close tie. Yet, as I trained limbs and senses (both mine and others) for land and waters, temperature-controlled and highlight regulated, news (and ocean waves) continued to break.


To Swim

Turns out, my time at the pool was mothing more than the calm before a new storm. A new day, another cliché. The bus broke down. The parents split. The camp director denied all wrongdoing. The state regulators refused to dismiss. Once the rains began, they would not stop. Band-Aid could never have satisfied demand. Need rose sky-high. Despite all my training for unpredictable waters, I never thought it would be the skies I’d ultimately fear the most.