punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

How I learned to swim

When my father bought his first yacht, my mother was convinced the very first thing I would do was drown alone at night when I fell off the boat peeing or something. Then I would be eaten by a large fish as a final insult to the 7 years she had raised me. The fact I swam at Tuckaho with friends didn't make a difference so they made me pass a swimmers fitness test (I think the Red Cross was the issuer). I failed year after year, so I was forced to wear a life jacket everywhere I went around the marina until I was 12. HU-MIL-iating! Other kids in the marina made fun of me... it was awful. So why did I fail the swimmer's test?

I couldn't dive properly.

Oh, I could tread water with ease, float without even thinking, and swim free style several pool lengths. I could jump off the high dive and swim to the edge repeatedly, as I had done with friends for years. But part of the swimmer's test requires a perfect dive. I had scoliosis (which my father called "made-up-itus") and thus I cannot bend my back properly. I'd pass everything but that one part.

My only revenge, now that I reflect on it, was my mother paid for me to have lessons every summer for 5 years, and man, let me tell you, some of those instructors were MEAN. Never be taught any athletic lessons by someone who "almost made" the Olympics. These were some bitter, bitter college-age kids. I was slapped, kicked, hit, and called a loser by some of them. One of them said goggles were for sissies until my eyes swelled shut from the chlorine of the McLean pool which was often so strong, it would fade the kickboards from red/blue to pink/gray. I once spend half a summer forced to perfect the butterfly stroke, which I was told was massively important for my survival. Because as you know, that's how the Navy SEALs get around all the time during important missions.

My eyes, they are rolling, can't you see? No? Must be the chlorine.

But when I was 12, I was taking the test, expecting the usual result, "your dive ain't straight, son. F." But I got this younger guy who shocked at my age and number of failed tests. "How come you never pass these tests? I have 5 year olds who pass them!" I told him about the diving problem. "You failed because you can't dive? Well la-dee-dah! Let's see how you swim. Tell you what, swim as many pool lengths as you can." He stopped me at 7. Then he made me tread water, float, and do a few fancier swims like the breast stroke and butterfly, which I always wondered if he thought, "Dayum, he swims JUST like a person who ALMOST made the Olympics but had to major in art history instead, much to the disappointment of his mother who drove him back and forth to practice for 7 years in all kinds of bad weather only to get ALMOST proud of him!" Then we got to the dive part. I flopped like a fish on the pavement. He asked if I'd go on the high dive, and I did, and did that... "dead man's jump?" [where you jump out with your arms crossed, feet-first].

"Tell you what, I'm gonna pass you with the highest marks in everything," he said. "And you tell your mother out there that if she's worried about you drowning, tell her nobody accidentally drowns just because of an imperfect dive." Yes, I know that can technically happen, but he was really shocked and angered everyone had flunked me when I could obviously swim so well. He not only gave me a "basic" swimmer's test pass, but an advanced, and said I should be a lifeguard as well as I floated and swam. He expected to see me working at age 16 at the pool.

What a nice guy he was. Adults like that in my shitty childhood really helped me when I was low.
Tags: childhood, diving, swimming
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