I am taking swimming lessons, actual swimming lessons. I am learning how to swim.
I have always known, since I can remember, how to float and get around in the water, but without being able to get around gracefully or breathe the right way. I have always wished I knew, but I was too embarrassed to try to learn and not be good at it, and besides, I knew if I did try, I’d have to swim with my eyes open. Under the water. And it seemed to me that everything looked so different down there, all curvy and warped, and I didn’t want to have to see it. It scared me, just a little.
But it is cold here in the winter and a warm pool is so inviting. Also, I couldn’t run every day anymore or my right foot started bothering me, unless it was my left knee acting up. One day I decided it was time to bite the bullet. I was going to learn how to swim, even if it meant making a fool of myself in the process. Even if it meant opening my eyes underwater.
There are only two of us in the Tuesday class: a woman who is afraid of the water and myself. The instructor is very nitpicky, which is exactly what I need, and she confirmed my suspicions: I have terrible form, the worst, really, but I float really, really well, and learn quickly. “And you’re not afraid. That’s good,” she said. Oh really?
On Thursdays, it’s a bigger group. There are so many weak swimmers in the Level 1 class that I got bumped up to Level 2. I’m easily the worst swimmer in the Thursday class, but the average age is twice mine, and so what I lack in coordination I make up for in comparative stamina. The instructor is a guy and he barely corrects our technique. He just makes us swim. A lot. And then four laps more! Oh great, he says to me when the class should really be over, you have just enough time for another two. Keep going. Very good. Two more.
It’s a good combination. I try to keep in mind all the tips my Tuesday instructor has given me when I am swimming all those laps on Thursdays. The time goes by quickly and I was well into my third lesson before I remembered that I was afraid of opening my eyes under the water, but by then it was too late. I was already over it. Who has time to think about those dark, creepy corners when you’ve been told to breathe at every third stroke and not stop kicking. Head to the side, not in front, tuck in that chin, look down!
And so I count one, two, three strokes and watch that long black line as I glide over it. With my fancy new goggles on, it’s not curvy at all. It is straight and true and I am almost to the end of it already. Time to reach out and touch the wall.