Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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I was a small girl in a red one-piece swimsuit too long for my body when I was marched shivering down a dock on Lake Virginia in Winter Park, Florida, and a silver-haired man with no shirt scooped me up fast and said, “One, two . . .” On two he threw me. I sailed through the air like a toy and hit the water hard. It felt like breaking through glass. But underwater my body slowed, and falling turned into something else altogether. I opened my eyes. I was amazed by what I saw. Edges of endless darkness. Reeds. Flat fish with gold eyes. I didn’t open my mouth. I moved my pale hands through the cathedral shafts of light. Sinking through the water, I felt the mucky, soft bottom like flesh, its sticky suction. I drew up my legs and hung there in the middle place, between the bottom and the surface. My memory of hanging there in the water is of a transcendent moment, suspended in space and time.
The silver-haired man’s name was Fleet Peeples.
I have no memory of what happened next, only what I later learned from my mother, who was extremely shy and rarely forthcoming about anything. Some days she wouldn’t or couldn’t talk at all. Her movements were darting, unpredictable, and she often seemed afraid. Occasionally, though, she was bright and chatty.
When she told me about my first swimming lesson, it was a story of dismay and embarrassment — hers. By staying underwater for so long, playing that game of mine, I had created a scene. A circle of mothers had gathered on the beach. I’d had to be rescued by a teen helper. She’d been asked questions, prying questions. She’d had to apologize for my behavior. But I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. I hadn’t really been drowning. I hadn’t needed a rescue. I’d been transfixed by the light, the waving grasses, the mysterious fish, the sensation of weightlessness, and a joy that was deep and dark and sublime. This secret chamber had been there all along.
To hear my mother tell what had happened on land was to listen to something like a fairy tale. I didn’t know it then — or maybe I did sort of know — but I would need to access this place again. It felt as if my life depended on it.
Weren’t you worried? I asked my mother more than once over the years, about that day when I was four or five years old and supposedly almost drowned.
Oh, I trusted Fleet Peeples, she said in the same voice every time. I always had great trust in Fleet. She used his first name, as though she knew him well. He was the best. Best in the biz, she said in a tone that was girlish and flirty, a voice I never heard her use in any other situation. As though my being tossed into a lake to sink or swim had been, for my mother, a kind of date with Fleet Peeples.
But weren’t you worried? I’d ask again.
I assure you I would not have entrusted the life of my only daughter to someone who didn’t know exactly what he was doing.
My mother always wore khaki pants and a kerchief over her hair. She would stand with her hands on her hips, leaning forward, full of certainty and strange, energized passion. She could be very convincing. But part of me was afraid she had no idea what she was talking about; that she was lost in her own story.
But didn’t you worry about your child being thrown into the water like that? He threw hard!
Nope. Not a bit. Sink-or-swim school, she said. Good preparation for life.
I loved hearing the story of being thrown in the lake and not bobbing back up; of all those people concerned and mystified, unable to understand what I was up to. But I was chagrined by this story, too, because it showed my mother to be an odd mother, not the person I wanted her to be. In asking her to retell it, did I want her to somehow come out differently? Absolutely. Yes.
At my second swim lesson with Fleet Peeples, we weren’t tossed in without warning. Instead we were told to line up on the dock. Some children ahead of me cried and shrieked and begged not to be pushed in. A few jumped before they could be shoved. Others ran off, back to their mothers.
When it was my turn, I stepped forward and hung my toes over the edge of the dock, as instructed. I was pushed off by a firm hand on my backside. I remember the shame of being treated this way, my body being touched and shoved. I like to think I jumped just before I was pushed, but I don’t honestly know. Fleet Peeples was tricky with his timing.
I came right back up to the surface this time — no alarming, missing-at-the-bottom-of-the-lake scare that shut down the lesson, angered my mother, and marked me as the weird little brown-haired girl in the too-big swimsuit who was too dumb to swim.
When I popped up to the surface, I was facing away from the dock. Instead of swimming toward the ladder, I headed steadfastly for the middle of the lake, frog kicking furiously. On purpose? I don’t think so. I was too timid and people-pleasing to go against the rules. I have only the memory of my deep yearning to swim across. I imagine I didn’t want to touch the icky, goopy bottom, which had sucked at me as if it wanted to pull me in. I wondered if my mother noticed what a strong swimmer I was. I desperately wanted her to note my strength and goodness. I wanted her to like me more.
I love this girl who swam away, who felt she was strong enough to swim to the other side of a lake so large it had whitecaps. On the distant shore of Lake Virginia were sandy crescent-moon beaches, dark pine groves, sturdy docks, mown lawns that swept down to the water’s edge, and old mansions with clay-tile rooftops. I had a feeling that if I could make it to the other side, I’d come out onto a friendly shore, and a family would be there, and the happy wet barking dogs would welcome me, and they’d all find my arrival singularly miraculous yet totally expected. I’d pick up in the middle of a whole new life, the life I was supposed to be living.
But I didn’t make it across. A lifeguard swam out and guided me back to the dock. I remember the hand on my stomach. Do not touch me there. I did not like being touched there, or anywhere.
I went on to take intermediate swimming lessons and then advanced swimming lessons, but I dreaded swim meets at the pool. Though I had long arms and a strong stroke, the coaches were always frustrated at me: You aren’t trying. Focus! I didn’t swim the way they wanted and hated the lane lines and the flip turns. I liked the open water of the lake and swimming underwater. I dreamed of backstroking across Lake Virginia. I perfected my underwater swim, an undulating, dolphin-like move. I had another style in which I swam with only the top of my head and my eyes out of the water, creating no wake. I imagined someday being employed for my stealthy ways. I’d be able to solve crimes by approaching from the water. I didn’t understand the fears of children who pinched their noses shut and closed their eyes before jumping off the dock and then, once in the water, flailed around with their chins above the surface, churning, not swimming. I loved swimming well, and I loved my secret life below the surface. I loved making my body into an arrow, rocketing through the filmy water. I kept my eyes open and swam beneath the other children, grazing the bottom of the lake. I swam under the dock. I swam under the ropes that defined our swimming area. On land I was timid, shy, awkward, and in the water I was bold, effective, and free.
Swimming is a silent sport. There’s no conversation underwater; it’s pure presence. There are people around, but you don’t have to get to know them. Just keep swimming, and you’ll be OK. It’s OK to be alone. You have to be alone to swim.
When I grew tired, I floated on my back, watching clouds assemble amazing stories. The ever-changing white clouds were reflected on the water, and when I flipped over to swim on my stomach, it was as if I were swimming through the sky.
Central Florida is latticed with bodies of water. Streets dead-end into lakes, rivers flow from natural springs, low bridges traverse lagoons, and backyards are given over to swimming pools. Children, my mother said, drowned all the time. Naive people didn’t understand the power of the water, its menace. That’s why she paid Fleet Peeples to teach me to swim.
One of my mother’s greatest fears was bridges. Every time we drove across a bridge, she panicked. She said, Hang on. I love you very much. This happened so often I barely registered it. When she said, Honey, honey, honey, get ready. This could be it, I simply set my book on the car seat and watched her closely. And, yes, I held on. She was unpredictable.
The threat of going over the guardrail and into the lake or river below haunted my mother in good weather and in bad, when she was in her quiet, scary phases and when she was on a happy streak. Almost always when we crossed a bridge, which we had to do often, she fought with the steering wheel to keep our vehicle on the road. It was just a thing she did, like how she bought milk and cereal at two different stores to save pennies.
Looking back, I think my swimming obsession had to do with being prepared to rescue my mom from a sinking vehicle. As we drove over a bridge or causeway, she spoke about what would happen when we hit the water. There would be a jolt. Hang on tight. Then — this was crucial — I should start rolling down my window. The water pressure would be too great for me to open the car door. That’s the mistake everyone makes, Heather. That’s why people drown in their own vehicles. She said I should roll down the window, kick off my shoes, and not try to take anything with me. That’s the other mistake people make. Can you imagine? Giving up your life for a wallet or a purse? I should swim out through the window and not panic, just swim up to the light. But the most important thing of all: Don’t try to save anyone else. Just save yourself. Do not come back for me, Heather. I’ll be OK. One drowning is always better than two. Do not come back for me. Do you promise?
It occurs to me only now: I never once saw my mother swim. Could she? I don’t even know.
I remember a sunny weekend morning. We were going to the mall to get my hair cut. Oh, gosh, honey, here we go. This could be it. As we approached the bridge, I tightened my grip on the edge of the seat and studied my mother. Did she look like she’d really do it? Yes. Yes, she did. Her eyes were blue-violet and darkening; her lips set in a tight, straight line. I’d seen her look like this before, when she was about to go into a rage, tear at her hair and her clothes, flail at me with her fists. She leaned forward. She was going to do it. Today she was really going to do it.
Mom, I said. Mom, don’t. Please don’t. I begged her to pull over. Let’s go another way. We can go around! She gripped the wheel. I rolled down the window.
Cars swarmed past us while we chugged along, our car threatening to stall as she worried the clutch and pumped the brake. I pressed my feet to the floorboard, bracing as we reached the highest point of the bridge.
I imagined the car falling into the sapphire-blue lake. I saw the white sailboats down there that would soon be passing over us as we spun in our car capsule to the bottom. I saw myself slipping off my shoes, escaping out the window on the passenger side, and, with a few strokes, swimming across the hood while the car sank softly, silently, just as I had sunk as a little girl at my first swim lesson. I would never swim directly to the surface. I’d swim to my mother’s side of the car and pull her out. I knew I could stay underwater long enough. I believed I was strong enough. She’d resist me at first, waving me away, mouthing, Go. Go. Go. But I would grab her by the wrist and the waist, and together we’d swim to the light. I rehearsed this scenario in my head a thousand times.
With all my swimming, was this the moment I was training for? While all the other kids were racing in straight lines, winning heats, was I so hell-bent on swimming underwater, holding my breath for as long as possible, because I wanted to be able to save my mother?
We didn’t go over into the drink. And after we made it across the bridge, she was quiet. I was quiet, too. The relief I felt upon surviving wasn’t pleasant. I had been ready to fall, to nearly die, to rescue my mother, to swim her to safety. I was prepared for a water rescue. But I wasn’t prepared for being with my mother in the aftermath of the crossing.
By the time we got to the mall, it was as though it had never happened. We went to the salon. I cried during the haircut. It’s not even even!
Stop crying! You’re making a scene, she whispered in my ear.
I stopped crying. I did what I was supposed to do. I believed I was upset about the haircut and not everything that had come before it.
My mother didn’t allow anyone in the house, including relatives — especially not relatives. The house, she said, was not in good-enough shape. The relatives, she said, were checking up on us; they had a hidden agenda. She was not up to having visitors, it was not a good time, please stop asking. No.
She didn’t like me to leave the house or to talk to anyone, ever. But she allowed me to go swimming, which she saw as much-needed exercise, wholesome, solitary, and mood-stabilizing. You’d think such a worried mother would never let her twelve-year-old daughter swim alone in a lake. But she did. I think she was so preoccupied with threats created by her own mind that she wasn’t able to discern actual danger.
So I swam in the lake at the end of our street. I was not afraid of alligators or snakes. I swam past them with some vague feeling that I was safer in the water with these creatures than on land with the humans. I rarely saw any other people. Mostly elderly women lived in the white clapboard houses scattered around the lake, and one of the women might stand on her dock and shake her finger at me. Be careful, girlie! There’s snakes!
I felt the embrace of the water, the safety of that support, the sensual feel of it against my entire body. With a mother who could not tolerate physical contact of any kind, I craved touch, and one thing that’s so alluring about the water is that sensation of being touched everywhere, with the perfect amount of pressure, all at once. Water didn’t need anything from me. It just held me.
I told my mother I didn’t trespass to enter the lake, but this was a lie. I didn’t want to go around to the public dock, so I walked barefoot in my one-piece down to the end of the street, cut across the Browns’ wide lawn, and walked into the water from their beach. I swam to the center of the lake and floated there, watching the sky and feeling in my bones the goodness in the world. I believed in God, and this was when we spoke most clearly to each other. Other times I swam around the edges of the lake, past the docks, solving imaginary crime scenarios in my head. Once, when I came up for air by the Partains’ willow tree, I saw a shirtless man draped across a low branch. I sat on the beach and talked to him, even though I was terrified of this man, who wore jeans cut off at the knee, smoked, and said he was from New York. I got the idea he was probably going to rob the old women, and he was there to case their houses. I walked a circuitous route home that day, and I didn’t tell my mother any of this. She would have taken the lake away from me in the name of safety.
One day on the lake, two men fishing scowled at me. I was rolling around in the shallows, pretending to be a porpoise, doing handstands. One of them said, after a long while, There’s cottonmouth right where you at, girl.
The other one said, Them snakes poisonous.
I flushed hot with shame but refused to stop swimming. I was prideful. And I was more afraid of the men on the dock than I was of the snakes.
I swam until my skin wrinkled and I felt ancient. I never brought a towel — I didn’t want to leave anything on the Browns’ beach and get in trouble for taking my shortcut. So I walked home dripping and barefoot in my bathing suit, wringing my long, dark hair out as I went. I entered my mother’s house smelling of lake and weeds and mud, and she was silent, and I was silent, and as always, after swimming, I felt I’d been somewhere majestic and beautiful and nothing could stop me from going back there. Like worship, like therapy, like love, swimming takes you from yourself and returns you to yourself richly and indelibly improved.
Sometimes, when my mother was well, she’d put on her khaki pants and her kerchief, set a thermos of tepid water on the car seat between us, and drive into the countryside around Orlando, where there were dozens of lakes and parks and fishing camps, all free and open to the public. She’d set up her lawn chair on the sandy shore of Lake Louisa, or Lake Apopka, or some no-name lake down a dirt two-track. A good spot. She’d lie back in the lawn chair. Tell me when it’s 4 PM, Heather.
She’d close her eyes. I’d watch her float off into some kind of rare peacefulness. Then I’d dive into the water. Those afternoons were the happiest days of my childhood.
When I was thirteen years old, my aunt and uncle and two cousins I had no memory of ever meeting came to Florida for Thanksgiving.
I heard my mother on the telephone, telling them it wasn’t a good time; another time would be better. I knew no time was going to be better. My father had left us, and she didn’t want anyone to know. She’d nailed the windows shut — for safety. Sometimes she couldn’t leave her bedroom for days on end. More than ever before, she said, we were in danger of being found out. We’d be separated from each other, taken into the System.
My uncle — my mother’s brother — simply showed up the day before Thanksgiving, knocking at our door, his wife and kids standing behind him.
There was a lot of confused chaos during their visit. My mother cooked a pot roast and cried and turned on lights in rooms that had been dark for years, pretending she was happy to see these large, pale people from Wisconsin even as I could see her hands shaking.
My cousins found me backward, years behind where they were in school. They made fun of my Southern accent and quizzed me about American history and a play called The Crucible. My cousin Paige said, Do you even know decimals? She was two years younger than I was, condescending and dull. Of course I knew decimals, I said. But I didn’t know decimals, had only a vague idea of their purpose.
For two days the house was filled with tension and know-it-all cousins lecturing and quizzing me, and then my uncle said he was taking us kids to Wet ’n Wild, which was much cheaper than Disney and also closer. My aunt was coming, too. My mother said I could go but not swim.
It wasn’t safe, she said.
We fought. She disappeared into her bedroom, and I felt terrible, but I put on my swimsuit and a cover-up and sneakers and left anyway.
I’d long wanted to go to this promising palace of outdoor pools and water rides. I’d seen the billboards depicting screaming, joyful families hurtling down the flume with their hands in the air.
My uncle drove. I sat between my two cousins with my feet on the hump as they related the plots of Star Wars or Star Trek. They were smugly surprised that I didn’t know anything about either. For my part, I could never understand why people shared the plots to movies and TV shows. If I wanted to watch it, I’d watch it. In truth, television and movies were banned by my mother.
At Wet ’n Wild I couldn’t wait to get in the water. On the concrete apron surrounding the main pool, I watched my older cousin, Allen, who wore goggles and nose plugs, warm up by windmilling his arms. Maybe he could do advanced math, but he looked ridiculous. I was embarrassed to be seen with him. The place was mobbed with people, and I stuck close to my aunt. As we approached the line for the giant waterslide, I became energized, giggly. I hadn’t even gone down the great slide, and already I wanted to do it more than once. My cousins went first. And then it was my turn. It was wonderful to fly down and crash into the white water. My face hurt from grinning. The second time, I kept the slippery blue mat under me and went even faster.
We moved on to the giant wave pool: a crowded tank with a concrete “beach” leading to it and a foaming white wall of water that came at you sporadically. My aunt and uncle went to wait at the umbrella tables, disappearing into the throngs of people. I lost track of my cousins. I stood in the shallows and waited for the next great wave to come. Older boys tried to swim toward the deep end, only to get pushed back onto the rest of us. People were on top of people. The tank was so crowded, it was hard not to bump into strangers. For many this seemed to be part of the fun, but I didn’t like it. I was worried about how I was going to find my aunt and uncle. Would I have to ask for help? I imagined my mother’s fury. How could you lose track of them? Heather, how could you talk to strangers? Then the giant wave knocked me down, and I was underwater, spinning, and when I tried to stand, a man grabbed me between the legs. I fell, and he held me down, hurting me with his hands. I struggled to get my head above the water. The bottom of the pool was bright blue and slippery. I couldn’t get my footing. I couldn’t get away. I couldn’t scream. The water crashed down. People banged into us. Suddenly he was moving away. I saw him then. Black trunks. He disappeared into the crowd. The water receded into the deep end.
I sat on the concrete beach, hunched over, holding my legs.
I don’t remember how I found my relatives, or maybe they found me. I do remember how upset they were.
You walked right past us!
My cousins both wore new flip-flops with rainbow straps. As we crossed the parking lot, I heard my aunt say to my uncle, softly, but not that softly, She’s like her mother.
In the car on the way home, my cousins and I sat on our towels in our suits, and my aunt passed strawberries and kiwifruit to us in the back seat. I didn’t want to eat the green kiwi, but I took a bite. By the time we got home, my eyes had swollen shut, and I could hardly see. I couldn’t open my mouth. I did not speak for days.
Why? my mother said, after the relatives had gone back to Wisconsin. Why would you eat those things if you knew you were allergic? Why would you do something that attracts so much attention?
Mom. Mom. Mom. I didn’t know.
I was drowning. And she couldn’t rescue me.
I did not enter the water again for a long time. I didn’t think about Wet ’n Wild either, except to consider my dislike for my cousins and how wonderful it had felt to fly down those great, curling slides and scream. The memory of what had happened in the wave pool lived in my body, but I put it out of my mind. And the mere sight of a kiwi could make me throw up.
A year later, when I was fourteen, I moved in with my father because I could no longer bear my mother and her endless rules forbidding me from wearing makeup, from shaving my legs, from having friends. I could no longer bear riding in the car with her, the drama of crossing bridges, the annoyance of three grocery-store stops. I could no longer imagine having the strength to rescue my mother, couldn’t imagine how I could possibly grab her by the waist and tow her to the surface. After Wet ’n Wild I’d lost my superpowers; it had all been the fantasy of a child.
My father had bought a brown ranch house on Conway Chain of Lakes. The house had a small pool in the front yard with a concrete-block wall around it and aqua concrete statues of porpoises frozen in midleap. I didn’t swim in his pool; I just dangled my legs in the water.
After a while I got to where I could sit on the top step.
You’re wasting the pool, my father said. Swim!
I just don’t feel like getting wet, I said.
Life with my father wasn’t how I’d thought it would be at all — fun, cute outfits, a passel of friends. My father seemed unemployed and was never sober. He would lie in his dim bedroom, a glass of gin in his hand, ice melting in it. That first year I spent as much time as possible sunning by the pool, coming indoors only when he banged on the window and asked me to make our dinner. I didn’t mind making dinner — just the opposite. I loved acting like an adult: buying groceries, cooking, writing checks for the bills, driving him around town, picking him up at the bars at night — a fifteen-year-old chauffeur. When I wore sunglasses, I felt thirty. Eventually I started swimming again. But as I swam in my father’s front-yard pool, I felt like a porpoise trapped in a tank, longing to get away, to swim free.
I’d built up a thriving babysitting business, with customers from my mother’s old neighborhood and now half a dozen families near my father’s house. I worked evenings and weekends, stockpiling the money for college. One day one of these Conway mothers asked if I could work as a summer-camp counselor in Belle Isle. Me? I felt both honored and apprehensive as I considered the money I would make and the potential new babysitting gigs that might come my way.
I was expecting buildings and pavilions, but the Belle Isle summer camp was just a mess of kids and a few picnic tables on a shady empty lot by the lake. I’d never been to camp, never played with children in the summer. To my surprise, I loved being a counselor. I taught every child who couldn’t swim how to swim. Most of my day was spent cheering on these small beings: Yes, you can do it! Yes, you are doing it! It was teaching children that revived my love of swimming and allowed me to reenter the water with confidence and pleasure. The lake was crystal clear, the bottom stable white sand, not icky at all. My young charges thrived and laughed under my direction and my watchful eye. No one would be harmed, not on my watch.
One of the other counselors told me about a lifeguard position at the YMCA, and I rode my bike to the library and got a book on how to become certified and read it and passed the test. I felt like I’d been a lifeguard my whole life; this was the best job I could imagine. All I wanted to do was save people from danger. I rode my bike to the Y in my swimsuit, my satchel across my chest. I chained my bike to the fence, walked into the locker room, and came out feeling powerful.
I perched attentively on my white tower, under my great red umbrella, and I blew my whistle at children who ran on the deck or played chicken in the shallow end. I enjoyed blowing that whistle and making runners walk safely and telling the kids playing chicken to stop. They were spoiling the shallow end for everyone else. My fellow lifeguards rarely blew their whistles and spent most of their time rubbing oil on themselves and talking to admirers. The other lifeguards — there were always two of us on duty and two on break — seemed to use the job as a dating service. A lot of mouth-to-mouth jokes and banter. I never talked to them. I never even learned their names. I was busy watching the skies for lightning; watching every child; watching all areas of the deck, the diving boards, and the water. I was ready at all times to dive from my chair and rescue someone. I wasn’t there to be liked. I was there to save lives.
I dreaded going home, where my father lay in his dim bedroom, a glass of gin on the bedside table. I’d close the door and go out and slip into the pool. Alone in the dark, I swam back and forth underwater. I did this over and over, night after night.
The only times I saw my mother were on Saturday or Sunday afternoons when she’d stop by my father’s house, park her truck outside, and wait in the street. I’d go sit with her in the front seat. We never spoke of school or my life, but she always wanted to know if I was exercising. And she always wanted to know how my father was. She was critical of the swimming pool in the front yard — a safety hazard. She warned me to watch my father closely around water. He can’t swim. Be careful. He’s heavy. He’ll take you down with him. One drowning is better than two.
I rolled my eyes. Oh, Mom.
At home, while my father drank around the clock, I holed up in the back bathroom, where I made detailed lesson plans for my swimming classes. I made up clever games. If you’re playing in the water, you’re not afraid of the water. We dove for dimes. We talked underwater, blowing bubbles, trading secret messages. We sat on the bottom and wrote with our fingers in the water. We were pearl divers, rockets, alligators, arrows. My teaching philosophy was the opposite of Fleet Peeples’s sink-or-swim school: all invitation, no push.
The YMCA pool was surrounded by a chain-link fence, and inside that fence were young mothers and their children, with lunch baskets and bright beach towels. The two lifeguards were always at their posts on the white stands, wearing mirrored glasses, heads tilted toward the sun, like silent sphinxes.
Every evening after work I went home and made dinner for my father and me, my hair still damp from the pool. After we ate, I changed into my lavender bikini with the sparkles set into the fabric very slowly fading. I emerged feeling athletic and independent, and I was. By now I had enough saved to make it through one semester of college, where I would study to be a teacher.
Walking down my father’s hallway one night, I wrapped my hair into a tight bun and pinned it to my head with bobby pins. When I entered the kitchen, he stood up, swaying, from the table.
At the counter he poured a tumbler full of clear liquid. What are you doing now?
Going to swim, I said.
My father followed, staggering behind me as I fairly ran out the front door to the pool, which was exactly five lunging steps from the house. In one smooth motion I dove in. I swam laps underwater. My father pulled up a chair and talked on and on and on.
Let’s go inside, he said after a while, after it was dark. Let’s go on inside now. Come on.
You go in. I still want to swim. I’ll be there in a minute.
Once my father had finally gone, I lay on my back and relaxed on the cool water. Through the window I saw him standing at the kitchen sink, filling his tumbler. I knew he couldn’t see me. He could see, reflected in the glass, only himself.
All alone in my shiny bikini under the purple sky, I just floated there. Instead of stars in the sky, I saw the twinkling lights of airplanes. I thought about Robbie, the star of my beginner swimming class that summer: A grinning, tan, fearless boy who swam underwater with his eyes open, just like I did. A boy who seemed more at ease in the water than he did on land. His mother had told me I was a good teacher.
Thanks, but Robbie knew how to swim before classes even started.
Still, she said, looking me in the eye, you’re a good teacher.
Come on inside now! my father hollered, banging on the kitchen window.
In one sudden movement I closed up like a clam and disappeared under the water, trying to leave the surface completely still. Trying to lie on the bottom of the pool for as long as possible.
Then, when I was finally done with the water for the day and the water was done with me, I slithered across the bottom and up the stairs on my stomach. In my own version of evolution I knelt on the top step, then stood and rose out of the pool. Water streaming behind me, I walked inside the house.