The Deep End…and the doggy paddle.

My first time in the deep end was by far the worst.

I was about 5 years old, and I loved to swim.  My favorite thing was pretending I was a mermaid. I would sink to the bottom of the 3 feet kiddie pool, and all of a sudden I was transformed.  My “tail” would be sparkly blue-ish green, and of course since I was a mermaid my long, luscious hair was waving in the water. I’d scour the bottom of the pool, pretending I was searching for treasure, running from sharks, or on a mission to save someone who sank to the bottom. Forget diving for pennies, I was saving lives here.

My parents put us in swim lessons as soon as they could, and I was unlucky enough to be close enough in age to my brother who was a few years older and so we were placed in the same class. My brother is everything I’m not.  I was happy enough splashing about in the shallow end, where my feet could safely touch the bottom, while he wanted more.  He always wanted to go deeper and deeper down the lanes.  My brother was always the daredevil.  He’d blow up a computer trying to fix it, go fast down the alpine slides, do jumps on his bike. From a young age, he was the risk taker, while I was the “safe” one. Choosing instead to watch him from afar, I sat on the sidelines while he took his curly hair and boyish smile through every challenge he could. And swimming was no different.  He is a charming, manipulative fellow too and he was able to get our swim teacher to go into deeper water each time we had a swim class.  The water got darker with each lane and I regarded the 4 feet deep lane to be plenty far enough. One day,  he and his pot belly friend decided that they had had enough of the shallow end, and he flashed his smile and joked his jokes with the swim teacher and before I knew it we were passing the 4 feet lane, going into 6 feet. Now, I was 5 years old.  I’m a decent enough swimmer, I’d been in lessons for several years, however I also had good depth perception.  I was barely topping the height measuring ruler around 4 feet. I know when I have a decent probability of being able to bounce my way back up from the pool floor without issue and I know when I will significantly struggle. At 6 feet, I clung to the wall, heart pounding. Doing the calculations in what basic math and common sense my little brain could at 5 years old, I figured I had a decent chance of survival, but I wasn’t sure.  I had talked myself up to it, when my goddamn brother opened his mouth again, flashed his stupid smile, and away we went to 7 feet. 7 feet. This was death. This was torture.  This was hell.  My swim teacher set up camp, going over technique and I was sick with chills and a pounding heart.  Hell wasn’t the fire-y inferno my Sunday school teacher had led me to believe. It was a dark pool, where I could barely see the bottom.  Once a beautiful mermaid happily flopping my fish tail, I was now a terrified kid, shivering in my swimsuit trying not to cry and wanting to punch my brother in the face.


(McFadden(Myers) Pool…which looks much less ominous now that I’m 20 years older…photo credit

My teacher informed us we’d be doing bobs.  At least I think it’s what they were called…and any case, it’s where you make your body straight, sink to the bottom, push off the pool floor, come up (keeping your legs straight and your arms at your side the entire time) take a breath, and repeat. It was literally my worst nightmare.  I hated bobs more than anything. Mostly because I felt like I was drowning any time the water was completely over my head. While I clung to the cool metal poolside, my brother and his friend happily bobbed all the way across the lane.  I was pretty sure I was either going to throw up or crap myself, both of which would make it easier for me to drown.  The swim teacher headed back for me and at first I blatantly refused.  She was patient though, and she didn’t put up with scaredy cats. I was also too much of a goody two shoes where I could never refuse an order, especially when given by a person of authority.  She coaxed me from the wall, treaded water a foot or two in front of me and watched as I took my first jump down to the bottom.

Yup. I was dead. This is what death felt like. I was drowning, sinking to the bottom of the pool I’d loved so much with no mermaid to save me.  I thought I was done for…Then, I felt my feet hit the bottom. I pushed off, and I looked up as I went shooting for the surface.  Bubbles flew from my mouth and my arms flailed as I reached for it. My head broke the water and the upward momentum shifted and all of a sudden I was going back down. My pulse exploded as heat rushed to my extremities and I flung my arms and legs trying to stop myself from sinking. I broke the surface again, coughing and screaming.  My teacher was still in front of me, encouraging me to continue. But I couldn’t do it. I looked into the water and saw the deep pit that was the 7 foot lane and I cried.  To this day I don’t know why I didn’t just turn around, that wall was much closer.  In my moment of crisis, I defaulted to the always faithful doggie paddle and my little arms and legs burned as I pumped them as fast as they would go, spitting out water my cries and hiccups sucked into my mouth.  I got to the other side, jumped out of the pool, and ran to my mother crying and shaking. I vowed never to get in the water again and hated my teacher and most of all my stupid brother who could make anyone do anything.

To this day I still love the water and my brother, and I’m a much better swimmer (and slightly taller) so I suppose the experience didn’t scar me too much.  I even seek out the deep end because it gives me the most space to flail around like the adult that I am.  I think the thing I hated most about it was that my teacher had let a 7 year old convince her to do something that she hadn’t meant to do.  That’s always been a pet peeve of mine is when people allow themselves to be manipulated into doing something.  What was worse was that I knew my brother knew I was scared, and he had done it partially to scare me and partially to be the risk taker he is.  I had hoped a swim teacher would be more perceptive and not let a 7 year old set the rules.  We never went back into the 7 foot lane again, so I think maybe she learned a lesson too.  I’m still a wimp, but at least now I get to choose what I do and do not do that scares me.  My brother can still sweet talk anybody into anything, but at least we aren’t in swim lessons together…or sky diving lessons…

Until next time

The Chubby Cubby

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