I was never afraid of water. I mean, never afraid afraid. I loved to swim - and by "swim" I mean "not go in over my head". If I was in over my head, there was a raft of some kind nearby. Or a ledge. Yeah, ledges were nice. I loved to jump off docks and do handstands and play in the waves. It wasn't until age 8 that I did a running jump off the dock at Sunset Lake in Braintree like I always did that I had my first slightly traumatic experience. And by "slightly traumatic experience" I mean, well...almost drowning. Normally when I jumped off the dock I could touch the bottom on my tiptoes thus allowing me to bop around on my toes keeping my head above water. Well, we must've gotten a lot of rain because when I took that jump I was in over my head and my usual practice of the tiptoe bop wasn't happening. I realized this immediately and my 8 year-old self was saying a more PG version of, "OH SHIT, I AM SO SCREWED". So there I was, by myself, struggling to swim and see, NOT KNOWING HOW and taking some water in as I coughed and you know, THE PANIC wasn't helping matters much. Somehow I got out (I can't recall if someone realized I wasn't "bopping" and pulled me out or if I was able to grab onto the dock and pull myself up) but needless to say, I was pretty shook up and the fear of going in over my head was promptly installed into my psyche. I believe shortly thereafter the conversation of, "think it's time we get the kids some swimming lessons" was had. (Gee, ....YA THINK??)
So my parents signed Kate and me up for lessons at the lake. Being that Kate is a year & a half younger (or one grade below) we took our lessons together. Given my recent "brush with death" I felt I was being punished by having to be in the Beginner Class with FIRST and SECOND GRADERS. Also being tall for my age made matters worse, too. I felt like (and probably was) about a foot taller than these babies. Back me up here, Beginners don't jump off docks, right? Beginners require direction on how to "get their faces wet" and to go under water. Clearly I had that mastered. Okay...sure, my doggy paddle wasn't what you'd call "textbook" (feet scraping the bottom while paddling my arms) but I really did not belong with these.....*sigh* .....infants. I was mortified.
I must've figured out the swim/stay afloat part on my own later in the summer with friends because I don't think I went back. The class was crap, that I know.
Fast forward to the spring of the next year...me age 9. My next error in judgment was watching the movie Piranha on TV with my Dad. I didn't ask any questions but I also didn't know that this type of fish only resided in South America. The movie, needless to say, etched yet another scar in my already fragile, water-fearing psyche.
"Oh, what's that you say, Mom & Dad? I'm going to CAMP this summer? And take swimming lessons? In a lake?? PERFECT! Yeah, if my life was going any better, I'd be eating aluminum foil."
Camp, Summer 1982: I took a test to see if I was Beginner 1 or Advanced Beginner stuff (thinking, "ohplease, ohplease Advanced Beginner - I am THIS CLOSE to sporting BREASTS for godsake". okay not really, but COME ON). I almost forgot, a bit of info I picked up on the bus ride to camp: ...the legend of The Snapping Turtle. The name pretty much said it all; they will eat little girls and boys toes and they hung out at the bottom of lakes. Oh, and if that weren't enough lakes have eels. "Greeeeat." So, where was I? Oh, the test - right...so between the Piranha and the eels and the Snapping Turtles, I knew I was going to make this the FASTEST test they'd ever seen. Ever. The test to be in Advanced Beginner was to swim from Dock A (again with the docks!) to Dock B which was over my head. The method being judged here was the crawl stroke. I jumped in (didn't know how to dive yet) and swam the fastest I ever had in my life. No way the snapping turtles were gonna get my feet. They didn't time me but had they I am pretty sure I came *this close* to an Olympic Record that day. I am sure it looked ugly, but it was fast. And I'm sure the suspense is killing you - I fucking failed.
Back to Beginner 1 with the babies.
I can still see myself arguing the bullshit call too. Me, all skinny and wirey, arms extended trying to politely illustrate to them that, Sir, hadn't I had *successfully* made it from A to B? No dice. "A do-over then?" Ditto. It was clear. They hated me.
I was PISSED....Form be damned, did they not realize that they just witnessed greatness in speed in swimming - and I was only NINE???? That they had a future Olympian on their hands? Shouldn't they be nurturing this ....this gift ...rather than subjecting me to further humiliation??
You think I am overreacting here or am overly bitter or something? But back at the nursery I to then deal with an instructor who said to the class (no lie), "now blow bubbles in the water, like you're Lois Lane kissing Clark Kent". YOU TELL ME HOW WELL YOU'D TAKE IT.
I blame the Snapping Turtles.