And We All Float On
People who know me a little know I don’t like the outdoors and I hate water and they make fun of me for it. People who know me even better still make fun of me for the outdoors thing, but ease up a little on me when they find out that my deal with water is more of a petrifying fear. I’ve heard it all before and I realize it’s something “normal” people need to do, so I just get through it. That sounds a little mean-spirited, but that isn’t my intent. I’ve just pretty much heard all of the “you don’t go outside??” and “you don’t swim??!” and “you’re outside? won’t you melt?” cracks. It’s fine. Really.
I say all that as preface.
I went out to Washington D.C. a couple of weeks ago to visit a friend. Apparently, the weekend I chose was the hottest weekend there’s ever been in D.C. If it gets hotter there, than I don’t want to know about it, We went to the National Zoo and saw a total of 5 animals, because even the animals knew better than to be out in that kind of heat.
We had access to a pool, and it was hot enough that even I thought it was a good option. There was a shallow end, so I could be comfortably above water but still be cooling off. Even in the shallow end, though, I still get panicky. I have to be near an edge, have to have my hand on something solid, something I can pull myself up to. If I kneel in the shallow end and water gets near my chin, I get a tightness in my chest and I find it difficult to breathe. If my feet can’t touch the bottom, I really do get panicked, really panicked. Can’t breathe, afraid, deer-in-headlights, the whole works. Fear. Abject fear.
I took swimming lessons about five years ago. I thought it might help with some of this. My instructor was… less than patient, shall we say. The first 15 minutes of every lesson was the same thing: me getting used to being in the water – not getting used to the temperature, actually getting used to the water and trying not to stop breathing from freaking out. By the end of my ten or so lessons, I actually was able to backstroke across the pool, and had started learning … the frontstroke? I don’t know what it was, but I know I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t kick my legs in any sort of effective method.
Five years later, and this is the first time I’ve been back in a pool. I’ve forgotten everything, including how to float. The water is colder than it looks, and I think of Jack’s line in Titanic about how freezing water feels like “a thousand knives.” I eventually am mostly in and used to the temperature, but I have moments of panic. I feel I am going to slip and go under at any moment. I don’t feel safe.
There are Funnoodles available, so I get one, but even it is not helping. I can hold it underwater, so I don’t believe it will do the job on holding me up. After a few minutes of not trusting it, it is suggested to me that I get another one. So now I have two Funnoodles, and it’s actually not horrible. I get to the point where I can lift my feet from the bottom and rest on just the Funnoodles – on which I have a death grip, you understand – and it’s okay. I’m still in the shallow end, but I’m okay.
At some point, I also grabbed hold of the floating lounge she was laying on, another level of security. Somewhere directly after that, I made the conscious decision to launch out into the deep end. Funnoodles firmly wrapped around me and held in a hand-vise, other hand holding onto the lounge for dear life, I am soon over the deepest part of the pool. I don’t know how deep it is, but there is a diving board over it, and my feet are nowhere near touching.
The panic doesn’t start from any place in particular, it’s just all over me at once. I close my eyes, I look up, I focus on breathing. It doesn’t go away completely, but it lessens. We do a couple of laps around the pool, specifically getting near the edge so I can occasionally feel cement. Eventually, though, I push us back over to above the deepest part.
I’m floating. I’m disconnected. I imagine what it’s like to be in space, untethered by gravity. I blather about how astronauts train underwater, and how I could never do it. I can’t leave a moment alone – probably more insecurity.
I get a strange sense of peace floating there. There’s not any noise from the road, and the only other sound is birdspeak. I’m floating in a pool, I’m talking to a good friend, and everything is all right. It would be easy to pile meaning on top of this, some deep lesson to be learned about launching into the unknown or trusting or somesuch, but that would take away from the simplicity of it, I think, and would also venture into clichÃ© territory. I think I’d rather just sing along with Modest Mouse:
And we’ll all float on, okay