Each month, The Sun magazine offers fiction, poetry, essays, interviews, and photos in a black-and-white format without advertising. Each issue includes provocative ideas from people of science, religion, philosophy, the arts, or a combination. Each issue also includes Readers Write, a feature compiling nonfiction submissions from the magazine’s readers on an intentionally broad topic. Occasionally I submit pieces for consideration. More often, I write essays on the topics too late to submit them.
This piece should have been submitted by December 1, 2015, for consideration for the June 2016 issue.
My home town didn’t have a swimming pool, but the larger town across the river did. And each summer, for six weeks in the mornings, they offered swimming lessons.
The swimming pool was a mile and a half from my house. The summer after I completed first grade, I set out at 9 a.m. each weekday morning with three kids from the house across the street to walk to the pool for our 10 a.m. lessons. Charley, the oldest, was responsible for getting the rest of us–me, his sister Margaret, my age, and his brother Bobby, a year younger than Margaret–to lessons on time. We carried our bathing suits rolled up in a single bath towel stuffed into an empty plastic bread bag with a sandwich for lunch, Charley leading the way and the three of us younger kids following behind.
Margaret, Bobby, and I were in the Red Cross Beginners level class. Charley, three years older, was in either the Intermediate or Swimmers level. He didn’t spend any time with us once we arrived at the pool. The others in his class didn’t have younger children to watch out for. He wanted to spend time with his peers. He waited for us outside the changing room at the end of the lessons, staying as far away from us as he could get away with before we headed homeward.
I was afraid to put my face in the water. Until I could, I would never pass the Red Cross Beginners level swimming lessons. I could do everything else, including jumping into the pool from the edge, completely immersing myself in water for the length of time it took to bounce back up to the surface. But I panicked whenever I put my face into the water.
I practiced at home, filling the bathroom sink with water and then forcing myself to put my face into it. But instead of becoming comfortable, I held my breath for as long as I could until I pulled away from the sink, gasping for air.
I repeated the Beginners course each year for four more years, each year with younger and smaller children around me than the year before. By the time I completed fifth grade, I was embarrassed to be so much older than the others in my class. Especially since I already knew how to dog paddle and tread water; they didn’t require putting my face into water. I could even float on my back, completely relaxed with hands resting on my belly. But I couldn’t float on my stomach with my face in the water.
I don’t recall if I found a way to get over my fear long enough to keep my face in the water in order to pass or if the instructor just decided I needed to move on, even without overcoming my fear. I passed that year, finally advancing to the Intermediate class the following year.
By the time I reached the Intermediate level, my hometown had built a pool just half a mile from my house. I spent mornings, afternoons, and evenings at that pool every summer, even challenging myself one summer to swim laps at the five-foot stretch of the pool until I had swum a mile. But I still didn’t put my face in the water.